Mareridt by MyrkurRelease date: September 15, 2017
Label: Relapse Records
Myrkur is Dane Amalie Bruun, who has created a one-woman black metal project that has pushed the boundaries of what the term ‘black metal’ means. This led to some negative press in her early career, generated by naysayers who are blind to the idea of a musical genre evolving and expanding. On debut full length M she built on the classic BM sound and template and took it to another plane, adding folk and classical influences, giving a very feminine feel to the music while keeping the thrill and brutality of the art form. With the ability to switch from a beautiful soaring vocal melody to a howling scream in a heartbeat, when I first heard her voice I was terrified. It quickly turned to admiration: M was genre-breaking, limited by nothing but the artist’s imagination. Themes of paganism and Nordic folklore are woven into the sound and visual aspects of Myrkur, from the runes spelling out the title to shots of Amalie among the trees in a forest of the far north.
Second album Mareridt takes the concept and sound of Myrkur further than before. If M was a black metal album that pushed the boundaries, this new one is less easy to describe: it’s a unique product of Myrkur’s classical and Nordic folk influences with elements of metal. Intensely heavy riffs, screams and blast beats, as on ‘Måneblôt’, meet traditional instruments, as on the instrumental ‘Kætteren’. Mareridt strays further from the black metal path than its predecessor but BM’s influence still looms large at times and can be felt across the whole album.
The album title, Mareridt, means ‘nightmare’ in Danish. The artist is welcoming you into her nightmares. She has said in interviews that she can’t listen to it without being upset. The music is possibly the literal realisation of a nightmare: it could be what a nightmare feels like. The ethereal intro track ‘Mareridt’, with its clear operatic vocal rising above the threatening background drone, builds a sense of foreboding and impending terror. On headphones this effect is magnified – the drone takes over, as mist swirling through a dark forest, and the beauty and fragility of Amalie’s voice shows the way through.
The nightmare arrives quickly as the music descends into the maelstrom of ‘Måneblôt’. Possibly the most ‘BM’-sounding track of them all, with heavy tremeloed guitars and pummelling drums, ‘Måneblôt’ bears the Myrkur mark, with interludes of soaring vocal melody and folky, Celtic-sounding violins. At times the two vocal tracks – guttural and clean – occur together, giving a sense of Amalie performing a duet with herself: part devil and part angel.
The dreamscape continues with the intense introductory riff of ‘The Serpent’. It underpins the song, which is beautiful, again with clean vocals. Sometimes the lyrics are in English, as here, and Amalie’s voice is exquisite, complemented by a lone piano.
Amalie’s vocal range is very broad and her skill as both choral chanteuse and black metal demon is demonstrated to great effect. The aforementioned ‘The Serpent’ shows her singing in the higher registers. Follow up ‘Crown’ has a clean vocal that starts much deeper than before, with violin and piano as a backdrop. On the heavy ‘Elleskudt’ she ranges from clean singing to screaming banshee in one fell swoop. It’s very impressive, and it continues the nightmare metaphor: the dreamer tossing and turning, thrown from tranquillity to nightmare and back again.
‘Funeral’ is a duet written specifically with Chelsea Wolfe in mind. As another female vocalist who embraces both darkness and light in her music, the two complement each other amazingly well, with Amalie taking the higher registers and Chelsea the lower. The music has a glowering edginess that fits Chelsea’s more recent work (think The Abyss), the doomy riff fitting the title of the song very well. It’s over all too soon and ‘Ulvinde’ arrives with a post-rock style shimmer and enveloping melody that quickly descends into the night-time screams that are the theme of the album. Chillingly, closer ‘Børnehjem’ features a child’s voice describing her demons and what they make her do, with little more than an ambient drone as a backdrop. A more haunting end to an album about nightmares I cannot imagine. More powerful than the heaviest of guitar riffs, it’s a perfect closer to the album.
On first few listens I was ambivalent about Mareridt. It sounded rather bolted together: the black metal one, the folky one, the next black metal one, and so on. But after repeated listens – and especially on headphones – it melds together as one cohesive whole that has a resounding effect. Pigeonholing ultimately misses the point of an artist’s intentions: to make music. This is an album about one artist’s nightmares and the idea is presented in a thrilling manner. It uses music in many ways to create a dark, terrifying album that is also both uplifting and beautiful.