So much has been written about Myrkur in regards to her black metal credibility that its almost tiresome now. I had only vaguely been aware of the controversy she inspired two years ago when she released her Relapse Records debut M. It was an album I’d picked up after being drawn to its cover art on a display rack of new releases at a local record store (Cactus Music for you H-Towners), not even realizing for half a second that it was by the lady who’d been shaking the black metal beehive online. I largely enjoyed it, finding it a strange collection of music that veered between classic black metal era Ulver and a darker strain of Enya. It wasn’t as its promotional hype claimed “the future of black metal” or whatever the quote was from that Terrorizer cover, but it was an interesting and often inspired listen. Fast forward to now, and Amalie Bruun is releasing her sophomore album under the Myrkur banner, and she’s actually leaned a great deal into the direction I hoped she would. I wrote in my review for M that I found myself growing to enjoy the more ethereal side of her work more, the clean vocal directed haunting soundtrack to some fog drenched Norwegian forest. It wasn’t that she couldn’t deliver convincing grim vocals, she certainly can, but I think that raw second wave Norwegian black metal aspect of her sound was her weakest link because its influences were so obvious to all of us well versed in that genre. Most of it was stuff taken from the Nattens Madrigal playbook and didn’t really bring anything new to the table.
On Mareridt, Bruun largely eschews black metal fury in favor of this new approach, and often sticks to clean vocals even over beds of tremolo riff laden, double-kick pounding, furious black metal such as on “Gladiatrix” which creates a rare listening experience only mirrored by those power metal unicorns in Falconer. Similarly on “Maneblot”, the track begins with a pure black metal approach only to later find Bruun switching to clean vocals over the same bed of frenzied tempos and abrasive walls of noise. Partway through, there’s an abrupt shift to rustic violins screeching a tortured folk melody in a cavern of silence only to be slowly crushed in by the black metal seeping in through the cracks —- like water engulfing the creaking hold of a ship. Those kinds of change-ups and attention to sonic details are what make Mareridt’s black metal aspects way more interesting than M’s ever were. She’s found her footing here, understanding that pure blanket second wave black metal shouldn’t be her end goal, that it should be used as an element of a greater sonic palette. On “Ulvinde”, one of the album’s stranger tracks, she couches blasts of her black metal vocals directly against an almost Tori Amos-esque plaintative vocal, one that’s almost sedate in its abrupt juxtaposition. On this and many other tracks, she’s found a way to blend black metal elements like tremolo-riffing, double-kick (even blastbeats at times) with decidedly non black metal tempos, song structures, and melodies. Sure, its walking down the path that artists like Alcest paved; to create something new by merging black metal with an outside genre (in their case, shoegaze). What Bruun is doing here sounds more like a marriage between black metal and the strong, defined folk of Loreenna McKennitt (and that’s awesome, in case you’re wondering who the latter is).
Not everything is a mish mash of black metal with something else however, as she reserves many of the album’s fifteen tracks for dips into pure Scandinavian folk music. Even here she’s improved by broadening her palette, no longer solely relying on the delicately ethereal, but exploring grittier, earthier variations on traditional folk melodies that often weave beautifully dark webs. The rumbling “Kaetteren” is one of these, setting the scene of musicians around a quietly flickering fire in the Scandinavian hillsides. While that track is the album’s lone instrumental, other folk laden songs revolve around Bruun employing far more hushed and delicate vocals than we’ve heard from her prior. On “Himlen Blev Sort”, she croons as sweetly and lightly as Sharon Den Adel, and the acoustic guitars trip lazily along in a semi-waltz rhythm, almost lullabye like in their intention (and perfect for an album closer). My favorite song is the truly spectacular “Death of Days”, a Dead Can Dance styled meditation with a swirling melody that’s utterly hypnotic. There’s a lot to process over these fifteen tracks, and I’m glad that Bruun decided to keep things short and sharp (just like Eluveitie with their recent eighteen track Evocation II), with no tracks hitting the five minute mark.
The background concept is also intriguing, giving reason to explore the lyrics —- Bruun kept a journal about her experiences with sleep paralysis and nightmares recently and a lot of these songs explore the feelings those stirred in her. I’ve experienced sleep paralysis myself, its wasn’t pleasant to say the least (absolutely terrifying when I didn’t even realize what it was at first), so my interest in Mareridt (Danish for “nightmare”) has only deepened on a lyrical level. I think I went into this expecting to like it, but not love it, that perhaps Bruun would make the mistake of trying what Deafheaven did, to get purposefully aggressive in order to win over some of the metal set. That she did the opposite is not only shrewd, but refreshing. She has nothing to prove to anyone, and a lot of the criticism towards her has been transparently misogynistic. I don’t like to use that term blithely, but it seems to me that most of the agitation surrounding her has been largely misguided as a result of the media coverage she gets. Its not her fault that the NY Post’s article about this album has the stupidly ignorant sub headline “This singer is making black metal into art”. Mainstream media likes to appropriate the appealing parts of our genre and promote them as their own grand discoveries. Bruun’s integrity however is unstained in my view, she’s in tune with the same artistic spirit that I find in a relatively more obscure band such as Swallow the Sun. My advice if you’ve been avoiding this is to ignore all the noise and check this album out, Bruun really is doing something new and fresh, a difficult thing to do in black metal, and its worth listening to.