I was just in Viljandi, Estonia, for an annual folk festival. Listening to some very medieval-sounding and borderline-metal folk-chanting over accordion that lifted the hearts of attendees with a somber and uniting flair, I couldn’t help but reflect on how so much of music could benefit from different branches being less derided and seen more as ongoing cultural development. From pop to post-metal to hip-hop, music has so many branches even within one genre. It’s a shame when we don’t nurture something potentially unique due to insecurely measuring it ahead of time to things of the past.
Denmark’s undeservedly controversial Myrkur is the oft-debated baby of Amalie Bruun, a figure who is only really polarizing to misogynists in the black metal scene. Norway’s Sylvaine also mines ethereal, dark post-rock and flirts with black metal territory (excellent new track “In the Wake of Moments Passed by” is a particular highlight of her recent Wistful release). Bruun’s rapid rise to popularity, however, seemed to deeply threaten yet titillate a large swath of self-loathing black metal purists who actually love writhing in torment at perceived slights worse than any “SJW” that right-wingers tend to protest.
Less a bulwark against “black metal purity” than simply pathetic foot-dragging in 2016, this kind of attitude makes me want to blast Journey’s superior-to-most-extreme-metal “Seperate Ways” into their mom’s basement like I’m that Navy Seal going after Osama with his Christian metal Demon Hunter patch on, only without any nationalist crusade-like Western revenge connotations. That stuff is icky.
This is more about recognizing true talent. The gentle tide of “Jeg er guden, I er tjenere” alone here proves Myrkur is actually far more compelling than many second-wave black metal apers set on patting one another on the back for staying in the narrow confines of a fading era that even innovators of that time like Darkthrone and Satyricon have evolved beyond. The fact that Bruun could win over rowdy Behemoth fans in a coveted opening slot on a huge recent North American tour speaks volumes, but the new live Mausoleum record is truly going to make haters seem pathetic not only for the death threats Bruun has endured, but for doubting her substantial musicianship or being miffed because she dared to do her own take on a Bathory song.
It is cool to like a style or want a legacy to endure, but becoming hindered by it to the point of self parody is kind of like EPMD having way too many albums with the word business in the title. After a while, it gets a little hokey (no disrespect to the guys who wrote “You Gots to Chill”).
Getting a Myrkur live record that smokes many extreme metal albums released in 2016, with Bruun backed by the Norwegian Girls Choir in the historic Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, is almost as satisfying as it will be if Trump loses to a woman and the GOP implodes in a fireball.
The performances are spellbinding. “Onde Born” is like having a bird’s-eye view of a long-delayed reunion in a smoky vista—it appeals to the lonely romantic side like much of this material. “Frosne Vind” opens with a soothing guitar melody that almost recalls Christian song “What Child Is This?” before layered harmonies take over. I was able to listen to this at 5:30 in the morning and not disturb my household, but that certainly doesn’t decrease the value of the work.
Anyone who was sexist enough to think Garm from Ulver, Teloch of Mayhem, and Arch Enemy’s Christopher Amott only collaborated with Bruun for hype’s sake or to somehow prop her up to improve her cred to the black metal scene is probably destined to have their enjoyment of this record pre-colored by bias. Their loss.
Granted, you could play some of this and Enya on the same playlist and not ruffle too many feathers. It’s largely beautiful stuff—cinematic reinventions with acoustic leanings and a particular emphasis on piano and vocal. If this was Sólstafir, it would have fanboys creaming their Skeletor/Varg underoos instead of hating. “Skøgen skulle dø” is particularly transportive, moving from ethereal voice to stark ballad and holding attention like waiting with baited breath for the stillness to break in a clearing or a letter from someone you love. The rolling piano sections almost recall the sense of motion, beauty, and revelation of Moby’s “God Moving over the Face of the Waters”, albeit with sick Scandinavian female vocalization on top. You could seriously score an entire Netflix period piece series with just cuts from this album, and no one would blink in protest.
Kudos to Relapse Records for standing behind Myrkur and other strong female-led (an almost patronizing term in 2016) groups like King Woman, Christian Mistress, or Windhand in recent years. Women have just as important or (often) more interesting roles to play, perhaps the product of creatively being stamped down for so long but nonetheless clearly as capable of releasing talented works. We really need to change the narrative and appreciate people’s contributions for what they are rather than aren’t, something even the “cool” Pope needs to learn after making anti-trans comments that kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose gender.
What’s “terrible and unnatural” is old white guys, whether Christian pontiffs or stinky black metal purists (who will hate being lumped in with the Pope), not allowing people to follow their own remarkable sense of self discovery. Where is the God or freedom in that?