”It could have made for a disconcerting experience, but her ethereal vocal presence binds it all together”: Myrkur’s Spine

Blend of genres results in a morbidly compelling work that can’t be contained by the ‘Viking’ tag

Myrkur - Spine
(Image: © Relapse)

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From the black metal of 2017’s Mareridt to the progressive folk of 2020’s Folkesange, Amalie Bruun – aka Myrkur – has been a musical shapeshifter, an artist for whom genre conventions are the starting point for her creative journeys, never the destination.

With Spine she forms a union between the very different styles of her past work, producing an album that can drift and glide over the listener, or lurch out of the shadows screaming evil. Sometimes even within the same song.

All this could have made for a disconcerting experience, but Myrkur’s ethereal vocal presence binds it all together. The album reunites her with Randall Dunn, the producer from Mareridt, although it never becomes as ferociously malevolent or grindingly acerbic as that record. Spine was recorded in Iceland’s Sundlaugin studio, which has played host to the likes of Sólstafir, Alcest and Sigur Rós, and there’s a post-rock/post-metal sensibility that can bubble up to the surface in the focus on exploring dynamics and building up layers of sound.

Like Humans puts that approach into practice, staying on a theme while the rhythm moves from a thumping heartbeat and big crashes to a frantic black-metal blast beat. The mood tends towards the melancholic, capturing the fullness of the human experience, from death in Balfaerd (rough translation: ‘Viking Funeral’), with its haunting strings and disembodied voices full of longing, to motherhood in the lullaby Menneskebarn (‘Human Child’). The latter is laced with darkness; it could be a lament as easily as a lullaby.

Mothlike marks an unexpected diversion into a dance beat and twinkling synths that sound like a gloomy 80s goth club track, albeit one punctuated by detours into black metal outbursts. What’s very different about the overall sound here versus Mareridt is how the drums and distorted guitars play a supporting role, rather than being front and centre in the mix. It’s the mournful strings and that siren call of a voice that hold the spotlight, weaving a musical web to transfix the listener.

The title track is a study in contrasts, like Loreena McKennitt fronting a metal band, and Blazing Sky is a rousing anthem sure to be a highlight of a live set. Valkyriernes Sang, or ‘Song Of The Valkyries’, ties Myrkur to the broader Scandinavian scene, even if her style is too defiantly esoteric to comfortably be contained by the ‘Viking’ tag.

There’s no one else who sounds quite like this, at once abrasive and soothing, blending seemingly insoluble elements to birth this strange chimera. Distinctly original and morbidly compelling.

Spine is on sale now via Relapse Records.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.