Released: 2017, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Denmark’s Amalie Bruun — aka Myrkur — certainly stirred up the pot with her 2015 debut album M, for better and for worse. M’s mix of primal black metal, classical sophistication and delicate folkiness was both compelling and divisive, as was Myrkur’s status as primarily a one-woman act in perhaps the most dude-centric corner of the music universe. Thus, both album and artist were the subject of much conversation and consternation in its wake.
Myrkur’s new second album, Mareridt, probably won’t do much to settle the arguments that M got started and, indeed, shows no sign of Bruun being swayed in one way or the other by any of the hubbub, at least on the surface. It boasts the same sort of strange “new age black metal/black folk” sonic brew — which includes ethereal choral arrangements, haunting melodies and a mix of English and Danish vocals — yet is more confident and assured following a couple years on the road with the likes of Behemoth and Opeth.
Subconsciously, though, it seems the attention, and the rigors of touring, did take a toll. Mareridt was inspired by the nightmares and sleep paralysis Bruun developed once the M cycle was complete – indeed the title translates from Danish as “Nightmare.” And it serves as a means for Bruun to exorcise those demons in her characteristically uncharacteristic, but always captivating, manner.
Actually, “exorcise” may be too strong of a word. In many cases, Mareridt sounds more meditative than cathartic, with Bruun seemingly making peace with what tormented her and willing it away rather than opting for primal scream-like therapy or self-flagellation.
The black metally movements, like “Ulvinde” or “Gladiatrix,” take an almost passive approach, with hushed guitar tremolos and sparse, deliberate tempos from Wolves In The Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver, one of the album's many guest musicians. “Måneblôt” is the most ferocious and jarring number, lashing out with flailing riffs and rabid snarls after the hypnotic title track opens the album with dreamy, fairy tale-like ambience. But “Måneblôt’s” fury doesn’t last, even for the duration of the song, which is interspersed with resonant clean vocals and folky asides.
More consistently heavy are the doomier “The Serpent,” “Elleskudt” and “Funeral,” which features a duet with Chelsea Wolfe. Their wall of sound approach, with layers of guitar and vocals and more pronounced percussion, provides a rousing, ritualistic air despite their plodding pace and the songs echo with triumph.
By the same token, when things grow quiet, they get very quiet, with Bruun singing virtually a capella, accompanied by minimal instrumentation – a piano and violin on “Crown,” a lone drum and synth on “Mareridt” and the same joined by a violin on “De Tre Piker.” The stirring power of Bruun’s voice is especially evident here, illustrating her vulnerability while at the same time offering an eerie calm.
Mareridt, however, ends in a thud with “Børnehjem,” as she adopts a little girl’s voice and squeals lines like “The Demons have always lived inside me, they always watch me, they want to play, but not today, no!” It comes across like a discarded remnant from one of King Diamond’s old albums, Abigail or Them or something, and almost seems like it was left on the album by mistake - especially after the surprisingly jaunty bluegrassy instrumental “Kætteren,” which sounds like a campfire jam. It would have made for a much more satisfying end to the album.
Still, “Børnehjem” aside, Mareridt is an enthralling, sometimes magical work. Bold, uncompromising and almost incomparable, Myrkur once again pushes the boundaries of extreme music here and demonstrates the art of the possible like few artists even aspire to these days.