M (2015) is the debut album by US based Danish one woman black metal act Myrkur. It follows up the self-titled EP that was released in 2014. Initially surrounded in mystery, the identity of Myrkur's sole musician was quickly revealed to be Amalie Bruun, previously known as one half of a pop duo called Ex Cops. It's a pretty big jump she's made in her music career, to go from pop to black metal. On her first EP I thought she presented some interesting ideas, but also a fair bit of unrealised potential. However I did enjoy the Myrkur EP quite a bit so the release of M is something I've been looking forward to for some time now.
Before I move onto the music found on M proper, there's a little something I feel I need to address right from the get go. If you are in any way a black metal purist stop reading right now and go back to whatever uninspired lo-fi black metal act you currently find so kvlt and interesting: Myrkur's M will be beyond you and you may even find it offensive the way Myrkur thinks outside the box when it comes to black metal conventions. I've already seen this sort of narrow-minded criticism aimed at the album before it was even released and some have even called it hipster black metal and said things like 'the only people rating this are the same people who thought Liturgy's Aesthethica was any good'. That's probably the biggest insult that someone could say about M and also one of the most unfounded. I've heard Aesthethica and it's truly one of the worst black metal records I've ever come across. A completely messy and repetitive affair (even by black metal standards) with maybe enough good ideas on the whole record for them to have crafted one decent track. M is exactly the opposite. Worse still I've also seem some outright sexist comments aimed at Amalie Bruun, which is of course totally uncalled for, even if her take on black metal is not your thing. It's things like this that make me fucking ashamed to call myself a metalhead, especially one who appreciates black metal where the tolerance level seems to be at its lowest.
And it's really too bad if you are one of the people who has already written Myrkur off without a proper listen to her music, because in M she's produced one of the most interesting black metal records I've heard for quite a while. Not since Hail Spirit Noir's Oi Magoi (2014) have I been this interested in a new black metal release, the better part of two years ago.
One of the biggest ways that Myrkur changes up the way she does black metal is that she uses a lot of clean singing. Clean vocals certainly aren't unheard of in black metal, but here it's pretty much her main vocal style, though there are more black metal style screams on M than there were on the prior EP. Amalie's voice has this ethereal sort of quality to it, which works well against the atmospheric black metal backdrop, to the point that to my ears she actually makes it sound valid to use exclusively clean vocals in a black metal context. But she does scream too and when she does the music can turn pretty damn aggressive with it, such as in Hævnen. Her vocals are pretty much incomprehensible, but that's a problem a lot of growlers have, whether it's in black or death metal or another context entirely. I tend to think of them as being an extra instrument in the atmosphere that Myrkur creates, and her two voice styles work equally well in that manner, while also finding a perfect balance between the two.
Some folk influences creep into the sound, particularly during the first two songs. They are naturally of a darker and melancholic kind than the lively, happy kind of popular folk metal bands and are a nice addition to the music. There are also some forays into other metal genres that add variety to the atmospheric black metal sound. Hævnen has a kind of doom feel with its heavy, slow guitars but more notably is Mordet where Myrkur teams up with former Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott to produce a much more in your face and direct metal assault that edges the music into thrash metal territory. Such a track may seem rather out of place on paper but I personally like it. It works to stir up the pace of the album effectively and as such doesn't harm the album's flow in any way. The combined atmosphere that has been created with all these different ideas is really easy to get immersed in. The actual instrumentation may often seem simplistic but that's black metal for you. It isn't about being showy and certainly doesn't need to be in order to be impressive.
M isn't an overly long album, just shy of 37 minutes, but I feel it accomplishes quite a lot in that time. It isn't perfect by any means; there's a bit too much of that 37 minute running time given over to interlude pieces like Vølvens spådom and Nordlys for one. There's quite a focus on piano and choral parts in such times, which work to a point but are slightly overused in my opinion. I'd like to have heard a few more actual songs because as it is I actually got to hear five of these in the run up to the album, which didn't leave overly much to discover upon release. M is however high quality debut album from Myrkur, even with its faults. 4.5 stars and quite possibly the best black metal release you'll find from 2015.