Love it, hate it or indifferent, one metal album you have probably heard discussed this year is the full-length debut, M, from Myrkur. What started as a murmur with last year's self-titled EP has slowly gained volume this year as more and more people weigh in on this polarizing new band.
Last year's EP was written and recorded by one person: Amalie Bruun. With M Amalie has recruited some rather well known backing musicians (Teloch from Mayhem and Nidingr, and Øyvind Myrvoll from Nidingr and Dodheimsgard) as well as black metal pioneer Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg of Ulver fame as producer. Those are some pretty heavy-hitters to procure after only one EP.
Myrkur is considered a black metal project, but this music is certainly not what one would consider traditional for the style. While there are aspects of black metal that make appearances, screeching vocals and bleak, raw guitar lines, the elements that make M great fall outside the usual arsenal of tools for the genre. I'm speaking, of course, of Amalie's hauntingly beautiful clean and ethereal vocals.
Black metal and clean vocals are not mutually exclusive (though BM purists would have you think they are), but neither are clean vocals a staple of this style. However, clean female vocals vaguely reminiscent of a boy's church choir, well, that is enough to give even the more progressive black metal fans a moment's pause. This small piece of information is why I said the band is polarizing; there are some extremely vocal black metal fans that take great offense to Myrkur's music being labeled black metal. There are just as many people on the other side of the fence proclaiming Myrkur the greatest thing since corpse paint, and I happen to be one of those people.
I have read and heard some truly horrible statements made about Myrkur and specifically about Amalie. Vile, misogynistic statements made because she is an attractive female who dared to step into the ring with the trve kvlt boys club. If I may stoop to these troll's level for a moment and use terms they will understand: fuck that shit. The heavy metal that I know and love is great because it is created and enjoyed by men and women around the world and brings all of us together in a huge metal family. Country of origin, skin color, religion, sexual orientation and certainly gender do not matter in this family. We are legion. So come on guys, don't be dicks. And you know what? Amalie isn't particularly a fan of labels to begin with, so black metal is just the most convenient tag placed on her music by the metal fans and press. So why are you giving her shit about it? You labeled her music and then decided to blame her for the label you placed on it. Don't you look like geniuses?
The things that haters are rallying against are the very things I love about Myrkur. Having heard six hundred and sixty-six Darkthrone clones already, it is a breath of fresh air to hear someone doing something completely different from the norm. M banishes all the black metal stereotypes and shows that there still is room in the style to stretch out and push the boundaries. Despite not sounding like a traditional black metal album, M does practically drip with atmosphere, a fog if you will, thick with the base elements that give black metal its spirit. Did I mention she recorded the vocals in a mausoleum? That's pretty fuckin' black metal.
If I have one complaint, it is a minor one. Danish-born Amalie does not sing her songs in English. I surely would love to hear her sing an album in English. However, I heard an interview where she said her songs just don't work for her in English, and I can respect that, even if it means I don't know what she is saying. The music stands well enough on its own that a language barrier is not going to keep me from enjoying M.
Relapse has the whole album streaming on YouTube, so why not give it a listen? As a bonus, I also include Myrkur's cover of "Song to Hall Up High" by Bathory. This song was released separate from the album and is ridiculously fantastic. Quorthon would be proud.