Myrkur – ‘Folkesange’

By Ash Bebbington

In recent years, Denmark’s Amalie Bruun has cemented her reputation as one of the world’s leading black metal fusion artists. Along with other critically acclaimed acts such as Deafheaven and Zeal & Ardor, Bruun has pushed the boundaries of what black metal can be by fusing it with other genres. Releasing music under the name Myrkur – Danish for ‘darkness’ – she has crafted a unique blend of black metal and Scandinavian folk.

Bruun’s earlier releases as Myrkur saw her undergo a process of refining the project’s sound. With the release of 2014’s ‘Myrkur’, Bruun laid out the blueprint for later releases, with angelic vocals layered over black metal instrumentals. On ‘M’, released in 2015, she broadened her musical canvas, adding more traditional folk instrumentation and harsh vocals to the mix. This earlier work culminated in 2017’s ‘Mareridt’ – ‘nightmare’ in English – which received wide critical acclaim for its fusion of ethereal folk with crushing black metal.

Listeners who are drawn to Myrkur’s work for its associations with black metal may find ‘Folkesange’ disorientating on first listen, for one simple reason: it is not a black metal record. That’s hardly surprising, considering the English translation of ‘Folkesange’ is ‘Folk Songs’, but the shift in sound from the last record to this one is stark and can be initially jarring.

On this record, Bruun leans into the folk sound that made her stand out in the metal world in the first place. When writing the album, she wanted to return to her Danish folk roots, and used traditional instruments such as a lyre, a nyckelharpa, and a mandola to achieve this. If you push play on this record expecting harsh vocals and blast beats, you won’t find them. But stick with it, and you’ll discover a rich and beautiful assortment of sounds to get yourself lost in.

‘Folkesange’ is by far the least dark record of Myrkur’s back catalogue, and even the album artwork is much lighter in tone than its predecessors. The songs are beautifully crafted, without even a hint of the abrasiveness that characterised Myrkur’s earlier releases. There’s still a sense of darkness and foreboding bubbling under the surface of the vast majority of the songs, however – this is, after all, still a Myrkur record.

As with any Myrkur album, Bruun’s vocals are the standout element. This is perfectly demonstrated on the opening track ‘Ella’, a song that’s built around a stunning vocal performance. Towards the end, her vocals build to an epic crescendo that feels emotionally resonant even if you can’t understand the Danish language the lyrics are written in.

‘Fager Som En Ros’ quickly moves the album into uneasy territory. The rapidly delivered vocal lines and frantic instrumentation gives the track a sense of being on edge, and this is a theme that continues throughout ‘Folkesange’.

‘Leaves of Yggdrasil’ is one of only two songs written in English. It’s a slow, minor track that builds to a lush instrumental section, before fading into a quiet piano outro. It’s followed by ‘Ramund’, a dark, foreboding track that ramps up the sense of unease.

The centrepiece of the record is ‘Tor i Helheim’, a downbeat, fingerpicked track that, at seven minutes, is by some distance the longest song on the record. The instrumental section in the middle of this song is beautifully realised, and is just one of many points on this record that showcases Bruun’s proficiency as a musician.

Throughout the album, Bruun’s vocals continue to steal the show. On ‘Harpens Kraft’ the producer layers her vocal tracks over one another to add an interesting new dynamic. ‘Gammelkäring’ is another track built around the strength of Bruun’s vocal performance, with instrumentation sparsely utilised.

The record closes with ‘Vinter’ – a slow, cinematic piece that wouldn’t sound out of place in a quirky Hollywood film. It’s an unapologetically major track, in contrast to the subtle darkness of what’s come before, bringing the album to an unexpectedly upbeat close.

‘Folkesange’ is absolutely worth your time, jam-packed with instrumental and vocal lines that get stuck in your head after repeat listens and refuse to budge. It’s also an evocative record that is perfect to get lost in, especially on a good pair of headphones while walking through a park, or the countryside. If you’ve never listened to Myrkur before, go back and listen to her whole back catalogue in order of release. You’ve got quite a journey ahead of you.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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