Black metal has always been shrouded in mystery, be it the church-burning Satanic side, or the aesthetically mythical, folk-tinged side. Denmark’s Myrkur – the one-woman project of Amalie Bruun – tends to gravitate towards the latter, but on debut full-length M, there’s never a focus on just one style. Quite the opposite in fact – M regularly goes on a thorough exploration of not just black metal, but folk, atmospherica and occasional dips into neo-classical. It all paints an image of Bruun being one of the most dynamic and compelling – if not fully recognised – forces in underground music, something which M as an album fully reinforces.

The translation of the project’s moniker – the Icelandic word for ‘darkness’ – is appropriate here, given how each track on M is rooted in such a malevolence and esoteric nature. This is especially true in the album’s more atmospheric tracks, in which heaviness is replaced largely by elegiac beauty, especially vocally. Opener Skøgen Skulle Dø and Onde Børn contrast grinding, blackened guitars (and in the former, a selection of Scandinavian folk instruments) with Bruun’s truly hypnotic siren song, while the icy, piano-led Nordlys shows a brittleness and a vulnerability often not shown in extreme metal. It’s moments like this that are the real image-conjurers – gentle, subtle instrumentals fuse with mesmerising vocals for snowy, sylvan images that make for a wholly worthwhile listen.

These gentler moments also stand out against the more overtly heavy tracks as well. There’s a true dichotomy between the two sides of Bruun’s creative mind, and both are shown in full across M in some shape or form. Mordet, one of the album’s more full-on tracks, gets rid of any sort of beauty and replaces it with with metal riffs and machine-gun drumming, and lacerating Bruun’s inveigling vocals for menacing rasps and banshee screams. It’s one of the extremities of heaviness on the album, as more often than not more metallic elements are combined with atmosphere. Dybt i Skoven meshes guitars that even verge on melodic with Bruun’s vocals, while Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne incorporates both polarising vocal styles as well as a focus on non-metal instrumentation for what is the record’s most comprehensive display of the whole gamut of Bruun’s creative force.

It’s one of the few moments that actually attempts anything of this nature, as there’s a real divide between the two styles. True, the choral vocals are often found on the heavier tracks, but in terms of a true meeting of minds between folk-metal and black metal, there isn’t really much to go on. It all makes for an overall disjointed feel that means, when played front to back, it staggers. Couple this with typically shoddy extreme metal production and an ambition but not exactly a display of something innovative and you’ve got an album that sits firmly in ‘good’ rather than ‘great’.

Still, for a debut album, M is one that should put Bruun in extreme metal’s firing line for the future. While her lofty status as black metal’s next big thing isn’t entirely justified on here, there’s definitely enough to suggest a fulfilment in the future. And while she’s unlikely to be the one to thrust extreme music into the public eye, black metal’s next star in the making will just have to do for now.

6/10

For fans of: Alcest, Ulver, Burzum
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘M’ by Myrkur is out now on Relapse Records.

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