Review: Myrkur – “Myrkur”

You may well have heard of Myrkur. This one-woman black metal project from Denmark has been causing quite a stir recently with parent label Relapse Records promoting and releasing this debut EP, comparing her music to early Ulver and Darkthrone; not comparisons to be made lightly, it must be said. She does appear to have come out of nowhere, and signing with a relatively major label before releasing even a demo aroused peoples suspicions. But I’m less interested in the person behind the music than I am with the music itself, so that’s what I would like
to focus on here.

While I understand the comparison with Ulver, I don’t think Darkthrone is a particularly useful point of comparison. In fact, the group that Myrkur most reminded me of while I was listening to this EP was actually Alcest. I think both seem to have a fairly similar sound and vision for their music. Both take a rather unorthodox approach to black metal, making use of clean vocals and atmosphere rather than brutality and low-quality production. Unfortunately in this comparison it became clear to me that Myrkur is less successful in achieving her vision. Perhaps the most frustating thing about this EP is I can totally see where she is going with this. I can totally understand how she is trying to balance these fragile choir vocals against a more raw, black metal set of instruments in an attempt to conjure an atmosphere of nature, forests, waterfalls etc. However the execution is not there yet.

Ravenens Banner opens with some beautiful, ethereal choir vocals, each particular layer of vocals one atop another to create a fuller sound. As the song progresses Myrkur introduce one instrument after another, rounding out the sound; but while there are some quite dark and aggressive tremolo-picked riffs, the song feels a bit bare and empty. I feel like some more traditional black metal vocals on top of these riffs would have helped fill the song out a bit more, but as it is it feels a little empty. Worst of all, just as the song reaches its highest point, finally picking up some real steam after introducing each of the instruments, the song comes to a rather abrupt halt. This song really should have been at least another 2 or 3 minutes long to let the song flow a bit and come to a more natural end.

The main issue I have with this song and also with the fourth track ‘Latvian Fegurð’ is that the choir vocals simply do not mesh well with the instruments. They’re not powerful enough to carry the faster, heavier moments in the track nor delicate and natural enough to work as well as they could on track 2. ‘Latvian Fegurð’ opens with some really cool tremolo-picking with drumwork that gives you a real kicking, bringing a real sense of pace and purpose,  but then 1:40 into the track the clean vocals come in and any sense of pace or atmosphere is lost by the jarring clash of styles. Imagine this: you’ve closed your eyes and you’re conjuring in your head images from the music you’re listening to. Because of how dark and raw the music is, you’re imagining dark caves, misty forests, mountains, the whole grim package. But then out of nowhere you’re also imagining an angelic choir all singing a hymn. It’s not that the singing is bad, or that it isn’t atmospheric, it’s that it completely clashes with the atmosphere the rest of the song is trying to convey.

That’s not to say they never work well. Track 2, ‘Frosne Vind,’ is a concise song with soft, folk instruments and calming singing over them. They actually perhaps work best though on track 5, ‘Dybt i Skoven.’ This is a slightly longer track (though 3 minutes is still not very long) which is probably most successful in blending these clean vocals with the more metal instruments. It’s concise, well-structured, with memorable riffs and transitions better between the slower and faster moments than most other tracks on the EP. It also happens to be the least metal of any of the ‘main tracks,’ but I’d rather not open that can of worms.

The third track on this EP, ‘Må Du Brænde i Helvede’ is (next to Nattens Barn) probably my favourite. It brings to my mind elements of Wolves in the Throne Room on Two Hunters or Celestial Lineage. Raw black metal guitars with some heavy riffs and powerful blastbeats, before slowing down a little with some quieter drum fills and guitars. The harsh vocals on this track are particularly well-done, being used in combination with the fuzzy guitar riffs to create a great atmosphere. The only downside is that towards the end of the track, some of the riffs feel a little messy, with a few missed notes here and there. A largely very enjoyable atmospheric black metal track though. I could say much the same of the sixth track ‘Nattens Barn’ which is probably the strongest on the EP (and therefore probably a wise choice for Relapse to use as their promotional single for the release!) Fantastic riffs, nice use of harsh vocals to compliment the dark atmosphere. Still, though, the structure is lacking; it doesn’t really feel like the song goes anywhere. It feels more like it ended when she felt she couldn’t add another riff or crescendo into the track, rather than the song reaching any kind of natural conclusion.

Part of the problem is that she’s been thrust into the limelight before she has had time to really develop her sound. For a first demo this is pretty damn good; the problem is that it’s being released and shown off as something much more than that. That’s not to say this is a bad EP, on the whole I enjoyed my time with it: ‘Må Du Brænde i Helvede’and ‘Nattens Barn’ are good atmospheric black metal tracks, while ‘Dybt i Skoven’ reminds me of Alcest in a very good way, and I’m actually very optimistic about her future with this project. I just hope in the future she finds a way to bring together these elements as successfully as Alcest has, because there’s definitely a lot of promise in Myrkur’s music. In places the vocals could benefit from simply removing the echoing and choir effects and just allowing her voice to stand on its own two feet so to speak, in others the songs could benefit from the total removal of clean vocals and a much greater prominence of harsh black metal vocals. The songwriting will come with time. All the right elements for success in the future are there, there just needs to be some work on how to put them together in a more compelling way that doesn’t feel as jarring as it sometimes does here, while bearing in mind the elements that were done well and improving on them in the future.