Having a woman make metal is a rare occurrence. Sure, there are the Lita Fords, Lee Aarons, and Severs of the world. However, women in the metal community tend to get relegated to being mere audience members, being a part of a crowd at a concert where they may get an elbow in the face or much, much worse. This is what makes Myrkur’s entrance into the realm of black metal as a solo artist so refreshing. However, she’s an artist that unfortunately isn’t without her share of controversy. Myrkur, aside from being a one-lady outfit, is really the pseudonym for Amalie Burnn, a Danish model who happens to lead the Brooklyn indie rock group Ex-Cops. Because she’s been successful outside of the realm of metal, it seems that she has her share of detractors and haters, as if she was supposed to live in a bleak, barren forest with goblins from the minute she entered this world, to roughly paraphrase a comment I saw somewhere online. Regardless of what you think of Burnn’s pedigree, you have to admit that her seven song, 25 minute debut EP as Myrkur (the Icelandic word for “darkness”) is quite spellbinding. Combining elements of choir chants, programmed drums, guitar riffage that slashs, and even, on “Dybt i Skoven”, shoegaze and dream pop, Myrkur has delivered a beguiling, enchanting and ethereal EP. Scoff at this if you want, but Myrkur is definitely a player in the black metal scene.
In fact, “Dybt i Skoven” is the song that you might find yourself returning to again and again, as heavy and extreme as much of the rest of the short album may be. It reminds me oddly of ‘90s British band Lush, and its slower pace and hazy melody is quite nocturnal. It’s three minutes of pure heavenly bliss, and had not the rest of the album been surrounded by more intense sounds, you might think that Myrkur would have a stellar career ahead of her as an artist who owes a bit of debt to the likes of My Bloody Valentine. Granted, the programmed drums race at points, which is something of a deterrent — it’s as though they’re only there so the “metal” tag could get slapped on the song. Still, it’s a mostly great tune, one that might stick well inside your cranium. That all said, though, the rest of the EP is remarkably forceful. There is gloriousness in the multi-tracked choral vocals that almost feel Gregorian in nature. There’s a humble beauty in that offers a fragility and radiance to the material. Granted, some of the transitions can be awkward. One moment, as on opener “Ravnens Banner”, vocals swoop down from the clouds above, only to give way to punishing, fast-fretted guitar work. It is a little oil and water, but one still cannot deny that it is a unique effect.
There are other moments where classical-style music takes to the fore. The nearly two-minute “Frosne Vind” has a flamenco feel to it, combined with those swirling female vocals. It’s the sort of music for days when a coating of frost lays on your window, there’s the crunch of light snow under your feet outside, and you can see your breath crystallize before you. However, there’s a minor pain point: just when you’re getting into the song, it’s over. From there, Hell freezes over on the bone-crushing “Må Du Brænde i Helvede”, which is a lighting quick race across the slush. Again, there’s frigidity to this material, conjuring up images of leafless trees and mulch. “Latvan Fergurõ” is a quick gallop through the badlands, with those jaw-dropping vocals clearing a path through the muck. “Nattens Barn” continues with the gothic tradition of wonderful dew-dripped vocals sung in unison, before, once again, the listener is plunged headlong into some heavy shredding. The album’s end note, “Ulvesangen”, is 47 seconds of the sort of thing you might be accustomed to hearing in a church. It’s chamber music for the soul.
While it’s possible that you can poke at the Myrkur EP and find plenty of faults with it — for one, it would have been nicer if all of the elements that make up the sound were blended together a bit more — it is nevertheless quite agreeable. Sure, it may not be heavy enough, dreamy enough, or whatever you want it to be enough, but it does satisfy. While Myrkur is arguably the product of a marketing machine — one that didn’t drop her true identity until the day of release, a mystery move that may have detracted attention away from the music — there’s enough on this short disc to warrant much listening. You also have to give bonus points to the artist for being a female in a very heavily male-dominated genre, and, as such, you can hear a feminine touch to metal on this recording, which makes it all the more attractive. Myrkur illustrates that black metal doesn’t have to be nothing but darkness; there are so many splendid moments of light on the record that you’ll end up forgiving the artist for whatever moments of indulgence she takes on. Myrkur and Myrkur are both beautiful and charmed, and if you want to hear black metal music that’s heartfelt and from the womb, she and it are as good of a starting point as any.