Relapse Records/Rocket Distribution
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
With all of the heated and polarised opinions about one-woman band, Myrkur, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if there’s a marketing department out there patting itself on the back for the chaos it has had a hand in confecting, because the level of attention directed toward the band, whether it be the good or bad kind, is surely the sort of thing that people in the business of generating exposure and buzz must dream of.
This is what occurred to me as I spun Myrkur's debut full-length release, M, for what must've been the 10th or 12th time and realised that the ongoing debate about everything ranging from how "true" the band is through to whether or not the band is even black metal at all had lead me to spend far longer second-guessing my impressions of it than I would have done had I simply been able to listen to it without the outside influence.
Now it's true that I wasn't a fan of Myrkur's self-titled debut EP, and it could be argued that I came into my review of M predisposed to having a negative perspective, but I'd counter that by saying that while I didn't enjoy Myrkur very much, I did feel that there was a lot of untapped potential as well and I was actually really interested to see if there'd been much growth in the last year. I'd submit that there has indeed been some growth but I’m also a little disappointed that sole member Amalie Bruun hasn't been able to truly capitalise on her potential on this, her first full-length outing, as well.
Like the EP before it, M comes across as a love letter to second wave Scandinavian black metal with nods to bands like Burzum and Enslaved, but the greatest influence here is from early Ulver (the vocal melody of third track, "Onde børn", is a dead-ringer for the one in "Capitel I: I Troldskog faren vild" from Bergtatt, as but one of many possible examples). Also like the EP before it, there is considerable cultural influence from Bruun’s homeland (Denmark) which presents itself in the album’s numerous folk-oriented songs where Bruun’s excellent clean vocals bring to mind those of Norway’s Kari Rueslåtten (while she was in 3rd and the Mortal, Storm, and on her Demo Recordings solo album, that is).
Based on the plainly worn influences on its sleeve, it would be tempting to label M as being merely a derivative work, but that would be unfairly selling it short. Bruun clearly has a love for black metal’s second wave, that point seems to be nigh on indisputable, and you could also reasonably argue that her interpretation of the style is far too beholden to 20 year old tropes without offering much in the way of differentiation or progression, but I also think, like on Myrkur, Bruun is most hamstrung by not quite knowing what she wants to do or what she wants her project to really sound like beyond simply being able to point to the variety of things that she likes.
In the face of what I see as a bit of creative indecision on Bruun’s part, she has taken a kitchen sink approach to her music on M, bringing in a variety of influences including Ulver, Burzum, Alcest, and folk which results in an album without much in the way of narrative cohesion because these influences tend to only be applied one or maybe two at a time per song rather than all at once in a more satisfying amalgam.
What this means in practice is that you get a solid Ulver/Alcest-inspired track like the aforementioned "Onde børn" leading into "Vølvens spådom", a vocal piece, then another Ulver-like number ("Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne"), followed by another acoustic piece, before reaching a raw, Burzum-like number in "Mordet", which is all a bit jarring.
In isolation, the tracks are generally of a high enough quality (though there is definitely some filler to be found across the album), but when they’re taken together, I don’t quite understand what it is that Bruun is trying to express with her music on a deeper level; the “feel” of the album as a result of the differing styles and the way the tracks have been arranged is lost on me and is probably the single greatest issue I have with it as opposed to any particular deficiency in her understanding of her given styles and influences.
From a performance-based perspective there’s not a lot to complain about with M. This doesn't come as a huge surprise when you consider that the album was produced by Kristoffer Rygg and features session musicians in the form of Teloch from Mayhem on guitar and Øyvind Myrvoll from Nidingr on drums. The real standout performance however, is that if Bruun herself and her superb singing voice. While her harsh vocals are more than up to the task, her talent is best realised in the album's ventures into more melodic territory where her haunting, reverb-drenched and cleanly sung vocals take centre stage. If she'd given us an album made up entirely of this kind of material, I would have been very, very happy, I can tell you.
As with my feelings towards Myrkur last year, I’ve walked away from M not feeling particularly enamoured with what Myrkur has produced as an overall package but there are a lot of things I did enjoy about it to keep me curious enough to want to see where the underlying potential that is slowly being coaxed out will take the band in the future.
Bruun’s clear love of and passion for the black metal genre is evidence enough to suggest to me that she’ll continue to refine her approach and that her potential will be fully realised sooner rather than later.
More from Myrkur
- Myrkur [review]