I’ve always believed that Myrkur had it in her to release a truly great album. Amalie Bruun strikes me as a woman invested in the music she creates, who loves what she does, and has been steadily but surely improving and refining her music since her debut EP in 2014. I still think that her self-titled EP didn’t do her justice, and said as much in my review at the time. Her debut full-length album M the following year was a significant improvement, but I knew she was capable of more, if only she would let go of the need to stick so rigidly to writing “black metal” and allow herself to compile a more diverse set of songs; on her second full-length album Mareridt, Myrkur finally delivers on all the promise that I knew she had, and has succeeded in creating the best album of her career to date, and one of the best albums of 2017.
Much of the trouble with M came down to the fact that while Amalie Bruun, the Danish musician behind Myrkur, was full of creative ideas, she seemed unsure how to translate those ideas into coherently structured, satisfying black metal songs. As a result, many of the songs on that album were a messily-stitched patchwork of disparate (though individually often great) ideas. But on Mareridt she has moved beyond her desire to create quote-unquote “black metal”, and instead recommitted herself to crafting a dark, brooding, organic and thoroughly moving record regardless of which genre labels people want to apply to it. As a result, it’s by far her most diverse album, but also her most sonically-coherent album to date.
In many ways, the most relevant point of comparison might be Bruun’s contemporary Chelsea Wolfe, who in fact features on two tracks on this album (one of which is the beautiful bonus track ‘Kvindelil’), and whose own unique approach to music and to metal is something I suspect Myrkur was influenced by. Wolfe’s music exists in a very strange musical and aesthetic space, simultaneously within and beyond the realms of metal traditionally conceived. Of course, there are considerably stylistic differences between the two – in particular, Chelsea Wolfe leans more towards doom metal and gothic rock while Myrkur draws on black metal and dark neofolk – but I think this is a useful comparison, and helps to illustrate the very dynamic and original approach that Bruun has taken towards the music on Mareridt.
Songs flit between Scandinavian folk music, atmospheric black metal, doom metal, gothic rock, neofolk, and other genres, sometimes even within the same song, and yet it never feels messy or disjointed. By focusing on specific emotions, feelings, atmospheres and imagery, Myrkur allows herself to then decide which musical approach serves to best realise that, whether that’s through the raw black metal urgency of ‘Måneblôt’, the doom metal dirge of ‘The Serpent’, the triumphant Ulver-esque ‘Elleskudt’, the delicate, beautiful neofolk of ‘Himlen blev sort’, or the haunting gothic soundscapes of ‘Death of Days’ or ‘Funeral’, featuring Chelsea Wolfe.
The depth and range of this album is incredible, and I particularly want to draw attention to the wonderful inclusion of traditional instruments, including the nyckelharpa, Jew’s harp, and mandola, as well as violin, organ, and contrabass. The earthy sound of this album is, like all the best music, rooted in a particular time and place; it’s the same nostalgic Nordic idyll Myrkur has been striving to translate into musical form since her first EP, and which a number of other artists have done in their own ways as well, but at long last she’s truly achieved it.
And to me, that’s what makes Mareridt something truly special: genre labels become almost entirely superfluous in describing and understanding it, because really it’s about the ideas, the emotions, the atmosphere; and those are all realised and created in ways that finally feel totally organic. This album has roots, and it has soul, but it is also very much its own beast. This album is so much more than merely the sum of its individual parts, moving so far beyond discrete influences and genres that Mareridt takes on an identity of its own. Mareridt is a genuinely impressive artistic achievement and one of the very best albums of 2017.