The most personal of artistic journeys rarely take a predictable path. Over the course of three studio albums, two EPs and a theatrical score under the Myrkur banner, Amalie Bruun has been willing to both pick apart genre conventions and delve deep into the heart of them, remapping her Danish folk roots and black metal onto the most dynamic of internal terrain. Where 2015’s M and 2017’s nightmare-induced Mareridt albums bolstered black metal with emotional currents that were by turns rapt and harrowing, steeped in tradition but enflamed into coruscating acts of deliverance, 2020’s Folkesange found refuge in the durability and archetypal storytelling of Scandic folk, blending songs ancient and new into a tapestry that bound the individual and the universal, once again reaching into elemental forces to invoke something resonant and unbound. But if there is solace to be found in continuity, Myrkur has often been equally tuned to the forces of upheaval, the ever-shifting nature of Amalie’s music and ongoing dialogue between the two. In art, as in life, there are rubicons to be crossed, new chapters to navigate and sensations to explore, and the act of self-examination that makes sense of it all is, by its nature, also one of reinvention.
If Myrkur’s new album, Spine, starts in recognisably epic, Scandic style, the title of the opening instrumental track, Bålfærd, is Danish for a “Viking funeral’, marking a break with the past as well as the emergence of something new from the flames. Marked by the birth of her child, and a means of making sense of the storm of emotions in that wake, Spine charts a new course for Myrkur through the most turbulent period of her life to new territories beyond, free from genre constraints, and giving rise to a new range of emotional and sonic contours.
Recorded in Iceland’s Sundlaugin studio, which has hosted Sigur Rós, Spine found Myrkur reunited with Mareridt producer Randall Dunn, Spine negotiates the the contrast between the deepest human connection of mother and child, and an increasingly disconnected, alienating world, from pandemic restrictions and isolation to the rise of Artificial Intelligence. But if the claustrophobia of 1 lockdown made an impact on the album, musically it’s Myrkur’s most open yet, Amalie’s pristine clear vocals a hyper-sensitive barometer, finely tuned to states where bliss, anxiety, grief, intimacy and psychic wanderlust co-exist, weaving wide-ranging traces of her musical background into rapt and tantalising new forms. From Like Humans’ blend of lush, airy textures and apprehension-inducing, pounding undertow, where Amalie’s voice floats over the top as if from another dimension, through the twilit pop noir of Mothlike and its sequenced, ABBA-esque groove to the vaulting torch of My Blood Is Gold and monolithic metal riffs launching Blazing Sky’s subterranean trawl and transcendent chorus, the balance of light against the nagging forces of dark have the most spacious and nuanced of arenas in which to play out.
If the track Valkyriernes Sang, sung in Amalie’s native Danish, returns to her connection with Scandic mythology, as with every other element on Spine, its given added weight and room for interpretation by the heartfelt new context it finds itself in, weighing the supernatural power of motherhood with the real need to know what it is to be human, not least in a world contriving to strip our powers away.
Spine is a title with a host of potent connotations: growth, strength, defiance, a core of our being, and flexibility too. It’s what holds a human up, and allows us to rebuild. It’s an album that encompasses all these traits - an act of rebirth that balances our most euphoric and our darkest moments.
Words by Jonathan Selzer