M, the full length debut from Danish singer/songwriter Amalie Bruun’s black metal project Myrkur, is a frequently beautiful collection of music. Stunningly beautiful, in fact. However, I say “collection of music” rather than “album” because M quite often feels less than focused, both as a whole and within individual tracks. Opener “Skøgen Skulle Dø,” for example, emerges out of the mist with Bruun’s airy and – clichéd though the term may be – ethereal voice, being joined by raw guitars and layers of strings that absolutely weep with a folky melody. It is nothing short of enchanting, creating the feeling of a place or idea that is immeasurably old, like black metal of this ilk is supposed to do.
Then it ends before it really develops as a captivating composition, dropping into a minute or so of odd noises before “Hævnen” brings a decidedly more metal vibe to the record. These types of truncations happen throughout M, and honestly, on most albums it would be damning. But because the album is only about 35 minutes in total length, and because the vibe created by the combination of Bruun’s voice and the lush black metal is so utterly stunning, these flaws might not matter.
Most of the time that is exactly the case. Bruun and her cohorts have crafted a thoroughly wondrous sound within. Said cohorts include current and ex-members of Satyricon, Nidingr, and Ulver, among others, while Kristopher “Garm” Rygg himself handled the mix. The Norwegian influence is obvious, with the actual black metal having a very Second Wave vibe, and the folkier, melody-based moments bringing the whole to any possible combination of the first three Ulver albums (and thus a bit of Agalloch‘s raw side), only with a wider array of instrumentation (piano, horns, strings, other traditional instruments), Bruun’s majestic vocals, and no trace of the Nattens Madrigal production.
Regardless of what the background music is doing at the time, M works best when Bruun is singing, either alone or with herself as a “choir.” When combined with some sea shanty, mid-paced black-metal, the results are golden. The nearly doomy “Jeg er guden, I er tjenerne” and deeply atmospheric, melodically simple “Dybt I skoven” are both highlights, far outgunning the heavier, more purely “black metal” tracks. This is not to say that those songs aren’t good (they are), or that Bruun’s black metal vocals don’t work (they do), just that her singing voice is the band’s one truly distinctive element. All other sounds can be found somewhere else in the realms of blackened music; not, however, the special “equally terrified and captivated by Galadriel” vibe created by her ghostly singing.
This makes sense, as her voice is what earned her success before she decided to take up black metal under the Myrkur name. I have not personally heard her older material, but as shown both here and on last year’s self-titled EP, her skills fit perfectly onto a blackened backdrop, even if much of the album is more soothing and relaxing than it is cathartic and evil. Which is perfectly fine, of course.
Still, haunting thrills and all, M does remain an underdeveloped work. When analyzed under intense scrutiny, the songwriting often fails to be more than a placeholder for the sound. But as stated above, this probably doesn’t matter considering the wondrous base aesthetic at work. Basically, lighten up and allow imagination and emotions to flow, me. There will remain that little bug in my mind, however, about the potential. If Bruun is able to lift her songcraft to the same level of the sound that she has conceived for Myrkur, we could all be in for something truly special.