REVIEW: MYRKUR – “Mareridt”
As has been documented frequently throughout the history of this genre, heavy metal, and indeed heavy music in general, has often been dominated by males, therefore making it intimidating for females to play their own part in the development and progress of said genres. With the increase in heavy female-fronted acts in recent times such as Oathbreaker, Venom Prison, Employed to Serve and numerous others, it means that the time is now appropriate for the Danish black metal solo project Myrkur, the musical alias of Amalie Bruun, to release her second full-length studio album, ‘Mareridt’.
The album’s title track kicks things off, and already from the opening seconds of this record it is clear that Myrkur is incorporating musical elements that definitely lie outside the conventional spectrum of what black metal has come to be known as over the decades that it has existed, since the beginning of the 1990s. An ominous background layer that resembles stormy weather accompanies the lone sound of Amalie Bruun’s staggering voice, making for what is certainly an atmospheric entrance to the album as a whole.
Everything I said about the title track is wiped clean away when it comes to “Maneblot” – at times soothing, other times scathing. The emphasis and influence both on and of sinister Norwegian black metal is dramatically increased, as is the introduction of instruments that are not conventionally used in metal – you’ll know what I’m talking about when it comes to you hearing the album for yourself. The range of various elements working so well both individually and alongside one another is really something to be noted.
At this point from here on in, the sheer power of Bruun’s melodic vocals emerge to the forefront of the next few songs (namely “The Serpent” and “Crown”). No black metal influenced high-pitched screams, yelps or raspy medieval shouts, but rather a beautifully controlled harmony that balances itself and sits comfortably over the top of the soft and delicate instrumental that carries the music from its beginning all the way through to its end. Despite there being no real ‘metal’ influence on these songs, the idea that a person would not be able to appreciate these compositions is strange within itself due to the care that has clearly been given to producing them.
While ‘Mareridt’ is brimming with musical ideas, it nonetheless still does feel at times like there’s not much sonic experimentation going on, as even at this point in the duration of the album it feels like the record is bouncing back and forth between extreme metal ferocity on the one hand, and touches of incredibly melodic symphony on the other. This is not a criticism of the music, of course, but by this point things do seem to be getting slightly formulaic. “Elleskudt” fails to do much to address this problem, as it contains an extremely similar style to the previous tracks without being able to add anything of any particular contribution to differentiate itself majorly from what has already come before on this album.
“De Tre Piker”, however, does go some distance in addressing the problem of repetitive musicality, as its occasional bursts of percussion that hover behind the vocals definitely go someway in giving ‘Mareridt’ a sort of winter atmosphere which benefits the rest of the music. “Funeral”, the album’s next song, features Chelsea Wolfe in a guest vocal spot alongside Amalie Bruun, paving the way for even more vocal prowess alongside a lo-fi and fuzzy sounding instrumental section containing the traditional set-up of guitar, bass and drums.
The album’s last few songs are all that is left before the album reaches its conclusion. It is evidently and undeniably clear that Bruun is one of the most diverse and talented singers in metal – whether it is the tone of her voice, her ability to jump from angelic harmonies to devilish banshee screams and back again, or the fact that no one else sounds like her, this album, to me at least, demonstrates her abilities as a vocalist way more than I could have ever expected before listening to this album. What I will say though is that this album definitely saves its biggest surprises for last, with the drum-heavy “Gladiatrix”, the solely instrumental composition “Kaetteren”, and finally “Boernehjem” with its bizarre voice-over that resembles something out of a morbidly dark fairy-tale meaning that this record can definitely throw you off course in the most unpredictable fashion.
Sometimes an album comes along that you know will be musically challenging and sonically unpredictable, but at the same time is able to excite you because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Myrkur’s ‘Mareridt’ is 2017’s edition of that idea. While it is definitely an album that is meant to service particularly niche pockets of the heavy metal community, everyone from black metal’s diehards all the way down to people who just enjoy Evanescence and Nightwish should find something interesting to get their teeth into. One of the best surprises I’ve heard so far and an album everyone should check out. It might not be for you, but nonetheless it is definitely worth investing your time into.