Myrkur has been one of the biggest up-and-coming names in the black metal scene these past few years. Primarily the brainchild of Danish singer/multi-instrumentalist Amalie Bruun, she gained attention right away after being picked up by Relapse Records in 2014 and dropping her first EP. Things picked up even more the following year with her debut full-length M, which became one of the most acclaimed metal records of the year, as well as her getting a choice feature on that year’s Adult Swim Singles Program. As someone who’s normally apathetic to black metal music, I found her debut to be surprisingly decent, mainly bolstered by its unique folk influences and great vocals. Two years later, Myrkur is back with her 2nd full-length album, Mareridt (“nightmare”), and it’s an album that certainly establishes a nightmarish atmosphere right from the start.
The opening title track features incredibly ominous string compositions and some wailing clean vocals backed by the sounds of thunder. Right away, it creates an uneasy somber dreamscape (it helps that I first heard this album in the middle of getting hit by Hurricane Irma), and Myrkur’s vocal performances/arrangements are gorgeous in how haunting they are. Her lyrics also paint a vivid picture of being trapped in a house in the woods as dark forces creep in on her. This atmosphere gives way to the following track “Måneblôt”, which swings right out of the gate with ethereal blastbeats, screeching lead guitars, and a back-and-forth mix of ear-piercing screeches and melancholic clean vocals. The strongest part of the song is the folk interlude at about a minute in, with the clattering low-key percussion and Nordic string instrumentation creating a great melody that’s repeated by an ominous choir in the outro. Interestingly, the lyrics bounce back and forth between English and Nordic, creating an interesting vocal dynamic as she portrays what seems like a witch hunt from multiple perspectives. The harsh vocals proclaim “Filthy whore, you deserve all that they have done to you” while the clean vocals belt out “in pale moonlight, we bathe in blue, the sacrifice of life born new”, among other lines that are vividly grim.
Speaking of which, there’s noticeably more English in the lyrics/vocals than what I recall from M, as the following two tracks, “The Serpent” and “Crown”, are almost entirely in English. The former has a slow marching tempo with a steady chugging guitar rhythm and minimal drums that create a menacing tone reinforced by the vocals that portray a narrative of a witch/sorceress intimidating some mortal specimen (“try me and suffer, impure from holy wood, where angels fall”). The latter is arguably the most cinematic track on the record, as the instrumentation is mainly carried by piano and strings, provided a vast musical landscape for the vocals to play off of. The actual performances and arrangements are some of the best Myrkur has recorded so far (let it be known that Amalie remains one of the absolute best vocal talents in metal currently), and there’s something darkly poetic about the lyrics, especially the chorus:
Am I Adored?
Je Suis Votre Amour
Am I A Whore?
Cause You Are The Drug
Solitary Are The Things I Know
In My Garden, They Leave Me Alone
Special attention should also be made of the songs “Funeral”, a duet with singer Chelsea Wolfe that features some great vocal interplay between the two, and the album closer “Børnehjem”, the bedrock of which is ominous choir chants that hold up a creepy monologue that sounds like it’s being delivered by a young girl possessed by supernatural entities.
The Demons have always lived inside me
They always watch me, they want to play
But not today no! Today you must be like a normal girl
The vocals are emphasized further thanks to some great production that gives them a great deal of breathing room to create some haunting atmospheres and make the compositions feel sweeping and all-encompassing. The mixing is incredibly dynamic and gives certain passages the right amount of vocal and instrumental punch when necessary. The songwriting and production is so good, I don’t even mind some of the more deliberately black metal songs on here. While some tracks like “Ulvinde” left me feeling a little indifferent, the song “Elleskudt” is another standout as its driving tempo and grinding guitars/vocals feel like a medieval war anthem. Mareridt as a whole is a vast step up from Myrkur’s debut that refines her talents into something much more darkly beautiful and haunting than her previous two releases, and this album is not one that should be passed up.
Verdict: Buy it. I don’t have anything witty to add here. It’s just a damn good album.
[Note: A copy of the album was provided by Relapse Records for the purpose of this review.}