Mykur has created stunning Norwegian folk with metal elements, but she is not without controversy (Image via Westword)
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Despite being surrounded by controversy, Myrkur continues to surprise audiences with her undeniably beautiful sound.

Few avenues are left to explore when it comes to revolutionizing modern music. From post-rock to djent to Nintendo-core, it seems everything has been done.

Sometimes, instead of continuing to push the envelope forward, artists choose to revert back to an earlier, more primitive sound. Female black metal artist Amalie Bruun, aka Myrkur, is taking this idea to the extreme with her latest release, “Mareridt.”

The Danish musician, whose name translates to darkness in Icelandic, released her debut album titled “M” back in 2015. “M” was primarily an attempt at true black metal; because of this, the release was subject to scrutiny from the elitist metal community.

Many called the album “uninspired at best.” Some accused the artist of posing, especially after discovering her past career as a pop singer with the band “Ex-Cops.” Others, however, were impressed by Myrkur’s ingenuity, claiming her sound to be the future of black metal.

Neither of these critiques quite tell the whole story, however; many of the most inspired portions of Myrkur’s sound are not the cold, dissonant black metal riffs. Rather, they contain folk elements, derived directly from ancient Scandinavian culture and tradition.

Although Myrkur’s introduction to the world was in the realm of black metal, calling what she is creating straight-forward black metal is a mistake.

Sure, there are black metal inspired parts peppered throughout both her releases, but Myrkur is truly a traditional folk singer. This is why “M’s” focus on cult black metal dissonance was such a controversial failure among true black metal fans.

Being a folk singer, Myrkur’s attraction to the black metal genre seemed natural, considering black metal embraces the incorporation of Nordic folk elements.

Yet ultimately, Myrkur did not have the dangerous or rugged appeal of a true black metal musician, especially when one considers her bubblegum past. She soon realized this and began slowly diverting from the genre.

Soon after the release of “M,” Myrkur began publishing videos to YouTube of her performing cultural folk music on traditional Nordic instruments like the nyckelharpa and the mandola.

Similarly, Myrkur published videos of herself in the forest and at the pier of a Danish lake executing an ancient Scandinavian herding call technique, referred to as, ”kulning,” flawlessly.

She seemed to truly be allowing her ingenuity to shine in these videos and, because of this, she received an outpouring of positive feedback from fans.

This might explain why her most recent release, “Mareridt” (which translates to nightmare in Danish), relies heavily on Nordic folk elements, even opening the album with her perfected kulning technique on the title track.

When asked about the importance of Scandinavian folk music in her writing, Myrkur said, “I think it’s pretty important. It’s in my blood. I can’t escape it. In terms of anything to do with culture and folk music, it’s an ancient art form that is passed-down knowledge. You can actually inherit memory in your cells.”

Being a classically trained musician and expert in music theory, Myrkur has expressed an obsession with collecting folk instruments, such as the nyckelharpa and the mandala, and teaching herself to play them.

Indeed, interludes of folk instruments are sprinkled generously throughout “Mareridt,” which adds an ethereal ambiance to the album, which is tempered by Myrkur’s stunning soprano vocals echoing at the forefront.

Myrkur does not just play straight-forward Scandinavian folk, however. Instead, she seeks to subvert the genre, modernizing it in turn, by injecting Gothic influences. She even pays an obligatory nod to her black metal past, in tracks like “Måneblôt.”

Critics and audiences alike responded positively to Myrkur’s subversive style, and “Mareridt” hit 91 on the Billboard top 100 charts. This is an amazing feat for anyone associated with the typically underground, black metal genre.

Unfortunately, being in the spotlight has not been without its controversy for the Danish songwriter; allegations of Islamophobia has recently put her in the press.

The artist expressed concerns with Islam’s treatment of women, as well as Christianity’s, claiming both Abrahamic religions enabled sexism. Many interpreted some concerns the singer had about Islamic immigration to Europe as xenophobic.

Although her focus on Nordic folk culture might signal as racist to some, considering the racist appropriation of Nordic imagery that has been occurring as of late, Myrkur has not been overtly political in the past. She has really only expressed alignment with feminist values and support of the LBGTQA community.

Perhaps her dedication to feminism is what prompted her to embrace her feminine side in the execution of many of the tracks on “Mareridt,” even injecting the inclusion of a girls’ choir on some of the tracks.

Top music critic and creator of the internet program “Banger TV,” cites Myrkur’s feminine aesthetic as the primary reason the artist has so much trouble resonating with metal fans. He believes certain metal fans cannot reconcile with the idea of femininity in metal.

Indeed, this might be an issue, but I think aligning Myrkur’s sound with black metal in the first place is a bit of a mistake. Myrkur coalesces several distinct genres on “Mareridt” in groundbreaking ways.

There is some evidence that Myrkur does not have a huge background in black metal, despite being associated with the genre. This is obviously irksome for die-hards within the genre, which is why her deviation from black metal in her sophomore release was a smart move.

After all, black metal fans largely demand dedication from artists within the genre. Yet, Myrkur is, at the end of the day, a brilliantly gifted musician. She is steeped in Danish culture and it seeps through in her work in hauntingly beautiful ways.

“Mareridt” is stunningly tranquil and definitely a good recommendation for anyone seeking an innovative album that utilizes complexity and genre-mashing in titillating new ways. She definitely continues to surprise her fans with her creativity.

Myrkur is currently on tour in support of “Mareridt”; she plans to begin preparation of her next full-length release upon her return.

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