One Last Bitter Retreat:
Denmark’s hottest heroine Myrkur shoots that poison arrow to our heart of hearts

dB Rating: 8/10

Release Date: August 21, 2015
Label: Relapse

It’s hard to judge one’s intentions without first looking into the mirror. For Danish indie-pop singer/songwriter Amalie Bruun, black metal isn’t exactly stop one, considering her forays into mawkish, ironic Scandi-pop. But here Bruun is, waist-deep in a genre unkempt and impossibly xenophobic. For insiders, she’s an outsider, an imposter, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. But the strong persevere even in the harshest of conditions. And so Myrkur return.

M is a natural extension of 2014 EP Myrkur. Co-produced by Garm across various studios in Norway, M carries an Oslo vibe. Tracks like “Mordet” and “Hævnen” feel dirty and urban—like Grønland 10 years ago. Whereas others are different, almost as if they were inspired by walks around the Oslofjord. Certainly, “Vølvens Spådom,” “Nordlys” and “Byssan Lull” are nods to another time, parallel to black metal, when the 3rd and the Mortal were less experimental trip-hop and more sublime folk. Others ply the middle plane between the urgency of city life and the time-stop of traditional music. “Onde Børn,” in many ways, is a direct interpretation of Ulver’s “Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild.” It even starts out with a drum pattern and features a rolling, bassforward riff, a transcendent lead and, of course, vocal lines that could’ve appeared on a cousin to “Scarborough Fair.”

As for outside the Ulver box, “Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne” is possibly M’s most captivating tune. It starts out all Nordavind-like, but eschews the Nationalist maypole stomp for Saint Vitus riffs and awesome Amorphis (circa Elegy) doublebass segues. The mid-section is one of M’s most harrowing. The squawk raises hairs, as if something supernatural and altogether unhappy has just entered the Nordmarka. Bets are Ovl. Svithjod never saw Bruun coming.

Even though Bruun has help from Garm, as well as members of Mayhem and Nidingr, it never sounds like all of this is for furtive thigh-slapping. Although there are points on the referential map at play, Bruun’s understanding of black metal—its diversions, its groundfloor tenets, the genre’s long-exaggerated raison d’être—is sincere. “Hævnen,” for example, genuflects at altar of the raw and Norwegian. Though the song pivots on a “Xavier”-inspired foundation, the monochromatic side of it is breathtakingly ghastly. Bruun’s caterwauling again takes on black metal’s greats in a throat-to-throat battle for scariest necromantic invocations. “Skadi” is yet another. The lo-fi tremolo riff, the grimy bass sound, the simpleton drums, and Bruun’s witch-like howls recall days when black metal’s curtain was nailed down hard and firm.

A legitimate complaint: there are too many “back to reality” transitions—admittedly in the most trad songs on offer—that turn the Luciferian into the pedestrian. It’s hard to frighten with music these days, for sure, but smoothing out the edges would do wonders for Myrkur. That said, strip all the hyperbole, and Myrkur is a fascinating entry into a genre that, despite its atavism, is rife with innovation, spirit and individualism, three traits that—if Decibel may be so bold—sparked the revolution in the first place.

—Chris Dick
Review originally printed in the September 2015 issue (#131).