Published Sep 16, 2014Anonymity and mystery have long been at the heart of the aesthetics of black metal, with musicians often operating under assumed names and behind heavy corpse paint. When it comes to Myrkur (which means "darkness" in Icelandic), those same tropes and theatrical techniques that have always defined the genre have fallen under intense scrutiny because the solo artist behind the project is a woman. The Danish musician (who is suspected to be Amalie Bruun of indie pop duo Ex Cops) has unsettled the black metal community with her self-titled debut, at best earning ham-fisted attempts to categorize her sound as "feminine black metal" and at worst inspiring online threats of violence.
The controversy is clearly and irritatingly gendered, as Myrkur itself is an unusual and uniquely promising record from an artist with a clear, uncommon vision. The record is atmospheric without being airy, full of thick, heady textures. The guitar tone is rich and deep, beautifully captured in the mix, with moments of frantic rawness and clear power both beautifully rendered. Myrkur's voice is also a clear highlight, serving as a melodic centre in the songwriting and also imparting a deep warmth that thaws even the chilliest passages. Oddly, the drums often fall weirdly flat, lacking the dynamics of either the vocals or guitars, and often competing against the other elements is a way that's jarring.
It's a weird flaw in a record that is otherwise exquisitely put together and shot through with moments of startling beauty. Myrkur is the work of an exceptional talent, verdant and mercurial and absolutely worth the attention it has attracted, though not for the same reasons as those who reject the record for the gender of its creator would have you believe. (Relapse)