I don’t make it a secret that my personal tastes veer towards the “more is more” school of aesthetics. That which is grimy, filthy, and dangerous should be very much so and that which is lush, beautiful, and decorative should be positively overwhelming. All of this puts me in a strange place when considering the work of Myrkur, the bizarrely controversial metal project of Danish musician Amalie Bruun. Her 2015 full-length album, M, garnered no small amount of attention as being “the next evolution of black metal,” always a dangerous marketing tactic given the anti-modernist stance of that particular genre.
What got lost in the genre-designation debate (never mind the tedious “women in metal” hobbyhorse-ing) is that it was a challenge to describe exactly what was happening on this record with its sweetly melodic passages, arrangements where pianos give way to blast beats, and feminine yet masterful vocals. Certainly there is a lot going on; this is a record that is engaging and even pleasurable, but a bit disjointed even to this sometimes-believer that quantity has a quality of its own. A year (and approximately forty-thousand thinkpieces) away from the release of M, Myrkur offers a new, stripped down take on her songs in Mausoleum, a release that brings clarity to Bruun’s musical aesthetic even as it peels back several of the layers that made M such a buzzworthy release.
It should be noted here that Mausoleum is a live recording of Myrkur, accompanied by genre-eschewing former Ulver member Håvard Jørgensen and the Norwegian Girls Choir, and captured in the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo. More than just a richly atmospheric space, the architectural design of the mausoleum possesses acoustical qualities that make it a unique venue for musical performances. The vaulted walls create a vibrating echo that adds an eerie timelessness to voices and instruments.
Unlike its predecessor, Mausoleum is quite simple to describe: it’s a sparkling combination of ethereal and folk influences that transports the listener into a bewitching but slightly sinister world. What makes this interesting is the fact that the album consists of seven previously recorded Myrkur tracks, rearranged with an ear towards simplicity so as to transform several songs entirely. Gone are the head-nodding, doom-laden chords and savage shrieks that punctuate “Jeg er guden, I er tjenere.” What remains is a hymn-like song befitting of its name (roughly translated into English as “I am God, I am Servants”), gently alternating between moments of melancholy and those of triumph. “Den lille pige’s død” sheds its tremolo picking theatrics for a new incarnation as a strikingly traditional folk song that more closely matches the lyrical theme of death in the midst of youth.
Beyond the general luminosity and loveliness of the recording, what Mausoleum does very well is showcase the substance of Myrkur’s talent. This album demonstrates that there’s more to this project than the novelty value of combining the prettiness of traditional musical styles with the bombast and grotesquerie of black metal. Myrkur creates memorable songs that hold up to dramatically different interpretations. Though it’s my personal hope that Myrkur’s next full-length record has more cohesion than what’s exhibited on M, I’m not going to reject a musician who shares my love of extremes.