MYRKUR – Spine (Album Review)

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By controversy, mystique arises.

Black metal’s highly ideological underpinnings have, for right or wrong, made it one of the most parochial scenes within the metal umbrella. As such, even the slightest deviations from the 2nd wave orthodoxy that was set during the early 90s in years since has been treated with contention, ironically or maybe fittingly so since separatism between national scenes during that same time period was rampant.

The entry of Danish-American model turned musician Amalie Bruun, better known by her stage name Myrkur, into the post-3rd wave context of the mid-2010s naturally courted a great deal of controversy among 2nd wave purists, and in the 10 years since little has changed in spite of, or maybe because of her now extensive body of work. The arrival of her fourth studio LP Spine will likely sway few that hold black metal to only be true by its commitment to the grim and frostbitten ways of old, but on its own merits it presents a musically compelling picture of an artist who has definitely added something worthwhile to the metal paradigm.

To those yet initiated into the world of Myrkur, the stylistic presentation she works within places greater emphasis upon folk music and atmosphere building, with the metallic side of her creative pallet functioning in more of a secondary capacity. Shrieked vocals are rarely employed in favor of a dreamy, angelic vocal display that bears some similarity to occasional clean female vocal performances from 90s black and death/doom metal outfits, particularly that of Siebenburgen and Theater Of Tragedy. Likewise, the atmospheric flavor and occasional Gothic stylings intermingle with what comes off as a lighter and smoother take on 3rd wave approach, comparing particularly to the likes of Agalloch, Fen and especially Alcest. The melodies resting above the generally warm and controlled fray are notably consonant and infectious in nature, resulting in something that sounds partly like the tonal musings of a woodland bard and the serene refrains of a lullaby. In fact, one might be tempted to label this as extreme metal tailored for those who otherwise don’t frequent the extreme fringes of the metal spectrum.

In every respect, “Spine” lives up to its implied nature as a stabilizing part of a skeleton, manifesting itself as a comprehensive and well-rounded display of what Myrkur has been known for over the past decade.

“Spine” Artwork

The slow-droning folksy flavor of the opening prelude ‘Balfaerd’ kicks the album off on a cinematic note, reminding a fair bit of Enya’s musical contribution to Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, and providing a perfect segue into a series of beautiful crafted odes. On the Gothic side of the coin are a series of largely compact yet free moving anthems such as ‘Like Humans’ and ‘Blazing Sky’ that feature reasonably prominent distorted guitars superimposed on an ethereal arrangement of chanting vocals and keyboards, the former being particularly hook-driven yet also featuring a reasonably prominent blast section.

The synth-drenched ‘Mothlike’ gets a bit closer to a blackened aesthetic and even becomes harsh for a fleeting moment, but largely falls back on more of an Ulver-like industrial vibe, while the blast-happy sea of choirs ‘Valkyriernes Sang’ could almost pass for a shorter work from Wolves In The Throne Room were Myrkur to favor a harsher vocal display for more than just a fleeting interlude.

On the other hand, given the diverse array of influences that Myrkur has employed from the very beginning of her musical career, this 33 minute excursion into the world of Nordic dreams comes with a fair number of contrasting entries. The piano-driven ballad ‘My Blood Is Gold’ takes on a somber yet surreal tone, almost like a lovelorn take on ‘Gollum’s Song’ from Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers, while the subdued atmosphere and folksy croon of the title song ‘Spine’ takes on a surprisingly jarring metallic twist at a few key points, complete with a brilliantly placed blackened tremolo riff passage to bring it all home.

The collision of an Enya-like blend of entrancing folk tunes and a dense keyboard atmosphere with some jarring metallic twists reaches a fever pitch with ‘Devil In The Detail’, before passing into a tranquil denouement with the short ballad and outro ‘Menneskebarn’, which recaps the lullaby-like tendencies of Myrkur’s style in a very blatant way.

Though this is not something that plays directly to the black metal scene, and ultimately only shares a tangential relation to it as one of its most light and accessible expressions, as a general work of art this is an album that casts a wide net and can be enjoyed by a correspondingly large audience. That may well be at the heart of why Myrkur is generally regarded dismissively by trustees of extreme metal, as for her it functions less as an adoptive style and more as a means of contrast with her core blend of folk and industrial influences. It underscores the distant and tenuous relationship that a subsequent wave within a given sub-genre shares with previous ones, particularly black metal’s present 4th wave with the dark and ugly primordial expression the style embodied prior to the turn of the millennium. But for those who want to drift off to the meditative compositions of a gifted siren and multi-instrumentalist, there is plenty here to enjoy. 

Released By: Relapse Records
Release Date: October 20th, 2023
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal / Folk

Spine Track-List:

  1. Bålfærd
  2. Like Humans
  3. Mothlike
  4. My Blood Is Gold
  5. Spine
  6. Valkyriernes Sang
  7. Blazing Sky
  8. Devil in the Detail
  9. Menneskebarn

Order Spine HERE.

8.3 Great

Now ten years deep into her career as an unlikely adherent of extreme music, Danish-American model turned metal artist Myrkur and her troupe of collaborators weave yet another collection of melancholic, dreamy atmospheric odes with a folksy edge.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8.5
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