Few artists have suffered the wrath of black metal purists in the wake of the genre’s shocking expansion and cross-pollination like Denmark’s Amalie Bruun, aka Myrkur. With her defiantly un-deathly outfits, mixture of gothic and pop elements and (let’s be honest) gender, Bruun has been labeled a poseur from the start by the sort of people who never stopped to wonder why anyone seeking fame and success would pretend to be into black metal. Her latest LP, Folkesange, will either drive the true heads finally around the bend or thrill them for the severity of its departure from the genre. As the title suggests, the album consists of folk songs, Scandinavian traditionals and neo-primitive tracks sung in a clear voice over classical northern European instruments like the nyckelharpa. After being told to get out of the scene, Myrkur has, for now, at least, departed of her own accord.

At times, the transition is rough. Opener “Ella” sounds like souvenir-shop CD folk, the kind of generic, New Age-y flimflam that replaces the raw beauty of folk for a warm, sleep-inducing haze of overproduction. Things then slam into the double-time intensity of “Fager som en Ros,” which lays filigrees of guitar over the groaning strings underneath in a tune trapped halfway between a dance and dirge as Bruun’s vocals cascade up and down in something perilously close to a yodel. There’s an agreeable playfulness to these interpretations, but they feel more like a tossed-off experiment than a serious engagement with the music.

The record stabilizes on “Leaves of Yggdrasil,” a raw, brittle piece of melancholia penned by Bruun rather than arranged. It’s immediately obvious how much more this song means to her than the preceding tracks, a work of medieval revivalism over which her voices floats ethereally, like a Nico solo album if Nico could actually sing. “Ramund” relies on the grinding drone of the nyckelharpa more so than the lyres of the preceding track, but it makes similarly good use of Christopher Juul’ spacious production to wring drama and longing from the slight reverb and massive empty space around Bruun as much as her own vocal delivery.

The rest of the album waffles between these bright spots and moments of stagnation. “Harpens Kraft” rides a lilting chime of a guitar pattern as Bruun’s multitracked vocals self-harmonize. Lush but filled with gaps, the song reflects the pastoral album cover of mountain slopes that are verdant but cold, as foreboding as they are inviting. “Tor i Helheim” is a seven-minute odyssey from the Romantic into the mythic and back, its title referencing the Norse realm of the dead. Even without the benefit of a translation, Bruun paces her vocals into a guiding cadence, taking us to the great beyond and back as the simple instrumentation pulses dreamily around her. Then there are tracks like “Svea” that simply mark time with generic strings and the same vocal tracking that defines much of the album.

The jump from black metal to folk is not so drastic as it may seem. Folk music has always had a certain affinity with that most extreme of genres; the concerns of cultural and racial purity espoused by pioneering black metal bands is a perversion of folk’s interest in cultural preservation, while folk music itself has been thoroughly woven into the fabric of black metal bands both European and American. Myrkur’s own roots in folk shine through in her one-woman band instrumentation and her command of arcane sounds, which are as evident on the more shimmering, modern “House Carpenter” as much as the eerie “Gammelkäring, which shares some DNA with Laura Cannell’s neo-pagan hauntology. But by the time the record reaches its closing stretch of interchangeable piano-driven compositions, it’s hard not to think of Folkesange as little more than a curio that, for all of Bruun’s impressive work on arrangement, playing and writing, feels too much like a toss-off than a statement.

  • Myrkur: Mausoleum

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