There’s no doubt that Amalie Bruun, the creative mind behind the one-woman black metal project Myrkur, is a superb vocalist and musician, but I’m less certain about her metal songwriting chops.
When Bruun flexes her black metal muscles on Mareridt, the project’s sophomore record, the results are certainly commendable. Both the vocals—Bruun’s raspy screeches are nothing short of feral—and the album’s raw, dissonant riffing are impressively faithful to the genre’s origins and have significantly improved since the project’s 2015 debut record. If nothing else, Mareridt is proof that Myrkur could eventually develop into one of the scene’s strongest acts, and also begs the question of how a traditional black metal Myrkur record would turn out.
The problem is that Myrkur’s lighter bits don’t hold a candle to its impeccable metal parts. Bruun’s vocals are quite good, and their frequent legibility is especially appreciated, but the universally solid vocal performance can’t carry the lighter backing music that constitutes the majority of the record. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with integrating a significant number of lighter elements into black metal, but clean vocals aside, they’re largely a detriment to the music here.
But when Mareridt clicks, it does so in wondrous style. “Måneblôt” is easily the strongest track here and serves as both an apt showcase of Myrkur’s strengths and as a generally fantastic example of classic black metal gone modern. Bruun’s manic screaming is just as forbidding as the genre’s contemporary heavyweights and they perfectly contrast her beautiful clean singing, which, despite their frequency, never detract from the music’s genuine ferocity. The instrumentation is traditional black metal fare in the best possible way, and its intentional simplicity and repetition conjure the kind of violent, trancelike atmosphere that’s sorely missing from many recent records from the genre.
Although nowhere near as aggressive, “Elleskudt” and the doom-tinged “Ulvinde” are nearly as enjoyable and similarly demonstrate many of Myrkur’s better elements. The latter, where harsh vocals are only notably displayed in the song’s grisly midsection, proves that Myrkur is absolutely capable of producing softer music on par with its metal work.
Elsewhere, the vast majority of the calmer segments are not on par with the record’s harsher pieces. They’re noticeably below par, which makes their prominence particularly concerning. There’s about 16 minutes of material here that might be worth subsequent spins months a few months down the road. That’s a bit under half of the overall record, and aside from "Måneblôt," most of the album’s finest moments aren’t quite good enough to excuse the white noise surrounding them.
The title track opener, “The Serpent” and “De Tre Piker” aren’t bad because they lack harsh metal screaming and blackened tremolo riffing, they’re bad because they’re boring and practically indistinguishable. The issue is such that by the time perfectly acceptable tracks such as “Gladiatrix”—another highlight that offers some of the record’s best singing and atmospherics—roll around near the record’s end, so much of the album has already blended together that it almost doesn’t matter.
Mareridt’s inconsistencies are especially frustrating because little of it has to do with the actual musicianship. As stated, Bruun’s vocals are almost always on point and the backing instrumentation is serviceable at worst. Unfortunately, too many of the tracks simply fail to go anywhere or do anything interesting enough to hold the listener’s attention. It’s a shame, because there’s boundless potential here, and even in the aforementioned low points, there’s rarely anything offense enough to actively annoy.
The exceptions are “Kætteren” and “Børnehjem,” which both close out the record. The former is an unremarkable instrumental, but the latter’s synthesized spoken word and insipid lyrics are laughably, inexcusably terrible. Myrkur’s decision to close out Mareridt with these tracks is a mystifying one, but the choice definitely didn’t pay off, and pretty much kills any goodwill the listener may have built up in the preceding 35-odd minutes.
But hey, it’s the journey that counts, I suppose. There’s still not enough standout material here to justify wholeheartedly recommending Mareridt, but again, the potential is so clearly there. Myrkur’s sophomore record might not be the breakout album that will single-handedly propel the project into black metal stardom, but Bruun’s future black metal work will still most definitely be worth keeping an eye, and maybe ear, open for.