It’s funny how one minor misgiving (in the case of Myrkur ‘where have they come from that gets their debut recording signed up by Relapse?’) can get you worried. Yes there’s the visuals that made me fear another dull post-rock whimpering infection but it was that ‘from nowhere’ more than anything and a reticence to say even where they are based (Relapse suggest Denmark, other things suggest Norway or… er.. Brooklyn.) But there was also still something that intrigued in the clips I heard so despite my dislike of all things post-rock in black metal I thought ‘let’s see if Relapse spotted something other than aiming for a long departed bandwagon … ‘
All of which probably explains why Relapse run a successful record company and I scratch a living shuffling paper. Yes, one woman band Myrkur have something. Something very good, but also a strange troubling irritation. Now this will not suit fans whose philosophy maintains ‘only bestial black metal is real’ but even if like me you simply dislike post-rock stealing black metal’s clothes it’s worth checking out.
We open with ‘Ravnen’s Banner’ and unaccompanied sweet, almost choral clean female vocals in a slow, chanting reverie. They manage to sound religious but pagan, natural, a forest cathedral perhaps. Then the music drops in and it’s a bit of a shock. Almost lo-fi in sound, dead snare biscuit tin drums and buzzing guitar we are suddenly slap bang in the midst of the early Norwegian second wave heyday. Think early Ulver and a bit of Darkthrone, a touch of Burzum introspection when it slows and the guitar spreads out; not as dark maybe but the sound and the feel? Oh yes. Ice edged melody frosting the guitars as they cut and drive on. It just feels, well, real. It has a sense of place and of musical history. ‘Frosne Vind’, a short piece up next has a folky, medieval lilt to its semi-acoustic sound interlaced clean vocals and gentle tambourine mixing a Norwegian Clannad with old Arcana before ‘Ma Du Braende I Helvede’ tips us back into the black metal with some excellent snapped and snarled vocals and a dark, bleak, cold guitar attack but as ever the clean, gentle vocals eventually rising. ‘Latvian Fegurd’ mixes rapid drumming and guitar with ethereal, slow clean singing before slowing and taking us through a haunted, harsh interlude and back out again.
‘Dybt I Skoven’ is probably the song where people see the EP veer off line. It is without a doubt the most obvious bit of post-rock here and will have them screaming” Alcest! ” from the hills, though actually more accurate to say the more driven sound of predecessors Amesoeurs. Beautiful yes, but curiously out of place amidst what is either side a strange, folk, pagan approach to Norwegian black metal.
‘Nattens Barn’ following kind of proves the point, back to the cold buzzing, the mix of black and clean vocals, the old school attack beneath an elemental and ethereal shimmer. ‘Ulvesangen’ ends this neat EP, just a few seconds of those soft and enticing vocals, a quiet bookend to a remarkable entrance by Myrkur.
I think that Myrkur will split people. Some will attach much weight to ‘Dybt I Skoven’ and declare it more hipster blight. But then there is the question of who she is: Rumours abound good, bad or indifferent and I have to say that the most convincing and prominent one (which I will leave you to discover yourself if you care) explains both their appearance from nowhere, a somewhat snarky interview-ette I found as well as one with their possible main band, and the reluctance to discuss their other musical projects because, trust me on this, it will annoy many if it is them and just compound the ‘hipster day tripper’ view. Others will listen to the way the rest of this EP is formed and the deep roots in genuine a Norwegian black metal sound and, dare I say it, the same feel for nature and folklore that the best of them hold.
As a reviewer I have to simply go with the sound here and the mostly exemplary songs that show, to me, a solid and emotional understanding of the roots of black metal. Take a look, you may well shock yourself.