Behemoth / Myrkur Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, April 26

Behemoth / Myrkur Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, April 26
Photo: Rick Clifford
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Solo black metal projects are strange, nebulous creations, the product of one person's creative imagination but also the culmination of a great deal of collaborative effort.
 
Danish wonder Myrkur is no exception; the one-woman project has been shooting delicately barbed arrows into the hearts of fans since her 2014 debut. While unquestionably the master behind the vision, aesthetic and sound of Myrkur, she relies on session and live musicians to bring the project to life. She was able to bring a rare alchemy together for her self-titled 2015 debut, but how that would translate live was an unknown before this tour. The answer, it turns out, is that onstage, Myrkur is genuine magic.
 
Liam Wilson (Dillinger Escape Plan) just joined Myrkur's live lineup, which also includes Rasmus Schmidt on drums (Illdisposed) and Andreas Lynge on guitar (The Cleansing), and the chemistry the four share is extraordinary. The songs retain their extraordinary delicacy, the shivering textures and the glorious vulnerability, but are backed by a deep, urgent muscularity.

Myrkur (born Amalie Bruun) sang into a pair of mics, one tuned for clean vocals and the other filtered for her harsh screams; her ability to switch between the two modes so quickly seemed preternatural, and gave the impression that we were watching a two-headed goddess. There's as much venom as gold in her voice, and as much blood as love in Myrkur's performance.
 
There is no doubt that these are war songs, shrieked and throbbing challenges, lit by flickering firelight and propelled by martial drums. At the end of her brief (so brief!) set, Myrkur played a cover of "Song to Hall Up High" by Bathory with the most plaintive keyboard accompaniment. The packed venue became so quiet, you could hear a few people weeping.
 
After Myrkur cracked everyone's ribcages and drew delicate silver runes on the audience's raw hearts, Polish titans Behemoth stapled everyone back together. Live, the blackened death veterans give off a kind of energy that none of their contemporaries can touch: for all the simmering evil and satanic aesthetic, there is something triumphant and unquestionably joyful about the way they perform.

Frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski, fine-featured and almost courtly in manner most of the time, transforms into a grand, caped arch-demon in his corpsepaint. If Myrkur was the rain, sheets of shivering sensation, then Behemoth was the thunder, bone-rattling and striking; both were transformative forces, but in completely different ways. Behemoth genuinely make you think being struck by lightning could be pleasurable. There's something exultant about the way they perform "The Satanist," and "Pure Evil and Hate" feels deceptively loving.
 
They kept their metaphorical boot to the audience's throat for the entire set, and the crowd loved every minute of it. It was difficult to listen to Nergal, so warm in the middle of all the violence, tell the crowd quite sweetly, "Whenever you guys are marching on, take no fucking prisoners, okay?" and not be moved to a completely different kind of tears.