Myrkur – the slightly terrifying nom de plume of Danish polymath Amalie Bruun – is the Icelandic word for ‘darkness’. Fitting then, that the records Bruun has released under that name are usually stark, thrilling and aggressive black metal albums that have had equal amounts of acclaim (from music fans) and derision (from black metal diehards). Myrkur is just the latest in a long line of projects that Bruun has pursued, which include modelling, acting, pop music (under her own name) and indie rock (as half of Ex Cops).
Her last record, 2017’s Mareridt, was one of the finest metal albums of the year, in any genre. It had twisted doom metal (The Serpent), ocean-sized classical metal (Ulvinde) and titanic goth rock all bound together by strands of ambient and darkwave and – most importantly – it showcased a heavier reliance on folk instrumentation than ever before (folk instruments have nearly always been important facets of black metal).
So this new record, Folkesange (literally Folk Songs), is just the next step in the obvious artistic evolution that Bruun has been hinting at for years. It’s a complete set of twelve folk songs, both rearranged and new, performed entirely by Bruun herself, with the production assistance of Christopher Juul (of Heilung, a neo-classical folk group).
The songs themselves are both beautiful, and beautifully produced. The production gives the impression of an airy, wide-open space – like a meadow or a glade – but is actually incredibly oppressive and becomes increasingly intense as the album progresses. The atmospheres and tones used throughout the record are eerie and harrowing where most folk music is comforting and nostalgic. This kind of music could not be any more cool, especially with the success of arthouse flicks like The VVitch and Midsommar, which both use traditional instrumentation and traditional folklore to horrify and enthral.
Opener Ella, for instance, evokes medieval battlefields and clashing swords rather than sheep and cattle. Bruun’s voice is gorgeous here – clear and bracing as a mountain stream. Bruun’s version of seafaring fable House Carpenter is eerily similar to Joan Baez‘s rendition, with elegant, dynamic vocal phrasing and yearning instrumentation – and it’s in English too.
On Tor i Helheim, Bruun uses staccato strings and ‘kulnings’, which are essentially Scandinavian herding cries, to a delightfully witchy effect. Svea conjures a distorted gothic splendour similar to that found on the score of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, or Jed Kurzel’s score for the 2015 Macbeth movie. Harpens Kraft, and album highlight Leaves of Yggdrasil, showcase the subtlety, dexterity and power of Bruun’s voice. Both are framed to leave wide gaps in the sonic field that become totally filled by her siren calls – evoking the alluring presence of vocalists like Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance.
Vinter, which closes the album, is a masterpiece of restraint, is no less haunting. Solo piano and vocals combine to evokes wintry, snow-covered hills and perhaps (if you’re lucky) a fire in the hearth of a cottage. It’s a wonderful climax to a masterfully constructed – and sequenced – collection of songs to get lost in over the coming months.