After a handful of singles and an EP that was as inevitable as it was underwhelming, Amalie Bruun‘s Myrkur returns with its début album, simply titled M. The ubiquitous coverage of this band across 2014 may initially have been a curse in disguise, as it burdened Myrkur with the unthankful mission of dismissing its fate as the metal press’s darling-of-the-week—a mission that could only be accomplished through asserting their music’s staying power with a stellar full-length. Even though the result of that assignment, M, is still haunted by some of the same blemishes that sullied the self-titled EP, it also helps motivate us to wait a little longer before this project truly ripens.
Last year’s EP collapsed under half-baked, confused song-writing that saw the band throw together styles such as black metal, folk metal, and post-metal into an ugly, chaotic blend. Ms. Bruun seemed more concerned with atmospheric pandering and chasing trends than writing memorable riffs or linking different segments with proper transitions. The result can be described as a directionless hodgepodge of recognisable sounds rather than a seamless whole.
Awareness of this form-over-essence approach is required to contextualise the fear that strikes when the pucks who helped bring down said EP reveal themselves so soon on M. On the opening track, ‘Skøgen skulle dø’, the first few minutes amount to a promising build-up. However, as the song advances, actual song development is replaced with arbitrary ambient noise, revealing that, even though this is the longest track on the album, we are in fact dealing with a glorified intro.
The subsequent ‘Hævnen’ offers little redemption as it continues Myrkur’s trend of interspersing its sentimental folklore with black metal (usually consisting of a stock riff slivering over a blast beat) while forgoing the formulation of a relationship between the two. Songs such as this and the completely obsolete ‘Mordet’ put question marks behind the presence of the black metal element in Myrkur’s music, as songs that concern themselves with this style fail to provide the listener with a deeper understanding of the music. To make it worse, they usually end prematurely and subsequently fail to establish a narrative that helps tilt these compositions to a higher plane.
Lest we come across as ‘negative nancies’, let it be known that M is not all bad news. Myrkur does reach a sweet spot whenever it’s not busy trying to prove it is a black metal band. This is only logical, as a more focused dedication to, for instance, its folkloric tendencies, relieves it of the tedious task of having to tie this lively side of its Janus face back to the forgettable black metal episodes contained within Bruun’s song-writing.
Myrkur is at its best when metal riffs plod with a slow to mid-tempo cadence, creating a folkish jumpiness and allowing for Bruun’s harmonic vocals to soar over rough metal terrain with seraphic agility. This is the most evident on ‘Onde børn’, which is by far the most solid track on the album and bears an uncanny resemblance to the first two songs off Bergtatt (Myrkur’s vocal line in particular mimicks parts of Ulver‘s ‘Soelen gaaer bag aase ned’). Consciously or not, these references cater to those who long for Ulver’s early days, breathing some life into the (as far as Scandinavia is concerned) under-saturated niche of mystical, subtle folk-inspired metal.
Indeed, the more unipolar compositions, such as ‘Onde børn’, ‘Jeg er Guden, i er tjenerne’, and ‘Dybt i skoven’, show that those songs which revolve around one movement or style are the most successful in establishing Myrkur’s signature sound: that murky, dreamlike folklore which audibly sets this band apart from the bombastic projects that have blasted their way out of Scandinavia’s frozen soil over the past years.
Lamentably, such moments of nebulous beauty are spread too thin even across the album’s modest running time. During M‘s thirty-six minutes, there are simply too many interludes, loose ends, questionable stylistic choices, and other imperfections to make for a consistent listening experience. It lacks the degree of solidity you are allowed to expect from a band trying to make a name for itself with a highly anticipated début album. While this is pure speculation on the behalf of yours truly, all these problems suggest that this release was rushed so it could still ride the waves of last year’s hype storm.
With this new release, Myrkur shows that it has evolved considerably since last year’s messy and lackluster EP. However, whether M will be remembered as another quirky yet forgettable experiment or a stepping stone to something greater is entirely in the hands of Bruun and her accomplices. Unfortunately, with so much stylistic smoke and mirrors, self-reflection may prove difficult.
01) Skøgen skulle dø
03) Onde Børn
04) Vølvens spådom
05) Jeg er Guden, i er tjenerne
08) Byssan lull
09) Dybt i skoven