Myrkur

support Jo Quail
author AP date 08/12/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite some early difficulties with both confidence and choreography, Myrkur has established herself as one of the leading metal artists in Denmark since making her live début at Roskilde Festival in 2015. And disruptive though her take on black metal may be, her shows on home soil tend to sell out or at least very nearly sell out every time, giving the naysayers and skeptics plenty to chew on when they decry her supposed bastardisation of a genre that some feel was never meant to be innovated on. There is a growing appetite among today’s metalheads for things that are new and/or different, and Myrkur seems to have struck gold in this segment with her unique mixture of old Nordic folk music and atmospheric black metal. I belong to that segment myself, so naturally I had to spend this rainy Saturday evening in her company alongside some 600 others, though it must be said that it was her choice of a support act that gave me the final nudge to go.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Jo Quail

She may be classically trained, but Jo Quail plays her electric cello like a true rock musician. And what’s more, the virtuoso cellist is clearly inspired by music much heavier than what someone in her profession would usually listen to, let alone play — so heavy, in fact, that she even manages to trigger the venue’s decibel killswitch several times during her second song of the evening, (“Gold” off 2016’s “Five Incantations” LP). Her songs have a classical foundation, yes, but they borrow much more from doom and post-metal, her artful usage of a loop pedal helping her build spectacular, hair-raising soundscapes out of dozens of simultaneously playing riffs, melodies and even percussion. All of these Quail creates on the spot, using a variety of unusual techniques like smacking and tapping the instrument’s neck, rolling the bow across the strings whilst shaking it lightly to produce a cool vibrato effect, and sliding the palm of her left hand down the neck so as to summon swells of dramatic baritone from the depths of a track like “Mandrel Cantus”, taken from her fourth studio album, “Exsolve”, which was released earlier this year.

It is the heaviest and most captivating piece to be aired during her 40-minute set, playing like a full orchestra’s take on a song by Cult of Luna, a shut-eyed Quail pouring her entire emotional register into a passionate and evocative performance that cements her as one of the most talented and original solo artists to be gracing the metal scene right now. But even though that song is hard to hold a candle to, it is merely the climax in a concert in which I have difficulty identifying any faults other than the three or four sudden losses of sound caused by Quail’s playing too loud (as if that should ever be an issue…!). And just as artfully as she began with the mysterious and shamanic opener, “White Salt Stag”, just as elegantly does she conclude the proceedings in somewhat more classic, baroque style (albeit not without a post-rock-style crescendo at the end) with “Adder Stone” (one of the tracks that comprise her 2014 offering, “Caldera”), causing the audience to erupt into ear-pinching cheers and thunderous applause as she bows out with a timid, taken aback smile. An absolutely breathtaking performance, which should give cause for one of the Danish promoters to bring her over for a headlining show at the earliest opportunity.

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Myrkur

It seems like Amalie Bruun keeps splitting into new personalities — the hip indie-kid in Ex Cops, the black metal enchantress in Myrkur and, most recently, the unearther of old Nordic folk songs. I am therefore only half-surprised to find her performance tonight divided into two separate acts, the first of which centers on her newest alter ego under the banner of Folkesange. As well as her usual live band, she is accompanied on stage (beautifully illuminated by glow bulbs), by Jo Quail and eventually also violinist Laura Emilie Beck (of Huldre), all of whom are seated in a half circle around Bruun, whose shaman drum provides most of the percussion during these songs. It is a muted yet also atmospheric start to the concert, quite literally shining the spotlight on Bruun’s siren singing — but as you can imagine, it is not to everyone’s taste. Someone behind me bitterly grumbles that he feels misled as Bruun produces a scintillating rendition of the timeless Norwegian song “Jenta ho gjekk seg uppå ei hø” and then threatens to leave the concert should the following “Ramund” (a somewhat more upbeat Danish folk song dating back to the 17th Century) turn out to not be the last of its kind aired tonight. To his sore disappointment, I’m sure, another four of them follow suite interspersed by Bruun’s explaining briefly the story behind each, culminating in a solo performance by Bruun of “Två konungabarn” with a nyckelharpa — a traditional Swedish bowed instrument, which somewhat resembles an elongated violin. I cannot speak for everyone in attendance of course, but for me, this unexpected preamble to the ‘proper’ set proves to be the most interesting and evocative part of Myrkur’s concert this evening, and it seems like my approval is shared by plenty of other people as well, judging by the enthusiasm of their applause.

During the changeover, Bruun changes from a black to a white gown and reappears with a stark black stripe painted across her eyes, as the glow bulbs flicker ominously and the room slowly fills with eerie, rumbling ambiance. The transition from Folkesange to the more conventional Act II is done with elegance, and by the time the familiar slabs of doomy riffage in “The Serpent” (off Myrkur’s 2017 album, “Mareridt”) start to rain down, the venue is so ripe with tension it surprises me there is no moshpit erupting upfront. As was also the case at Roskilde Festival earlier this year, Bruun has meticulously stripped her music of growls, with the likes of “Dybt i skoven” and “Onde børn” (both taken from 2015’s “M”) now entirely delivered in her ethereal singing voice. Again: this is of no concern to me, given how stunning that voice is, and how exquisitely it melts into the tremolo melodies (played by Rider G. Omega tonight). But it would not surprise me to learn that others are much less disposed to finding satisfaction in songs that it would be stretch to call black metal at this point. Indeed, it is quite telling of Myrkur’s future ambitions that the concert should end in “Juniper” in the encore; this brand new single is the least avantgarde, and certainly the least metal song Bruun has written to date, taking on an almost ballad-like character with a slight resemblance to the music of Chelsea Wolfe. Love it or hate it, structurally it is Myrkur’s most cohesive work yet, and it works splendidly in the live setting, even if it does not give much cause for headbanging.

Although more extreme songs like “Mordet” and “Skaði” (both off “M”) still resonate with me, their absence from the setlist does not bother me. It leaves room for Myrkur to build harmony and flow into the concert, so that the older material chosen, can coexist with the new songs à la “Elleskudt” that lean more toward folk metal than black metal. And that harmony bleeds through the band’s performance as well, which, while not strictly choreographed, is emblematic of every musician knowing and owning their role. Bruun is at the center of all things, the snowy white of her gown striking a vivid contrast with the remaining musicians all clad in black, and inviting every eye inside the venue to focus on her. Omega, as well as bassist Jeppe Skouv, do a solid amount of rocking out in the periphery mind you, but there is never any doubt that Myrkur is a one-woman act. It was not so at the beginning of her career, but over the years, Bruun has made herself deserving of standing in the spotlight, shrouding herself in an aura of mysteriousness as she moves around the stage with graceful steps, seamlessly morphing from siren to wraith and back during the likes of “Skøgen skulle dø” (another cut from “M”). I think Myrkur still has some distance to cover before her shows will become transcendental, but here — three and a half years since her live début — she comes across as a confident and passionate artist, unafraid to shove genre conventions up the arses of those who continue to criticise her quest to always push the envelope. With the surprising aspects of her concert tonight, she has done exactly that — pushed the envelope and challenged her fans by springing half a set’s worth of traditional folk music on them without any warning.

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Setlist:

— Act I: Folkesange —

  • 01. Bonden og kragen
  • 02. Jenta ho gjekk seg uppå ei hø
  • 03. Ramund
  • 04. The House Carpenter (The Daemon Lover)
  • 05. Himlen blev sort
  • 06. De tre piker
  • 07. Två konungabarn

— Act II: Myrkur —

  • 08. The Serpent
  • 09. Ulvinde
  • 10. Dybt i skoven
  • 11. Onde børn
  • 12. Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne
  • 13. Elleskudt
  • 14. Skøgen skulle dø
  • 15. Måneblôt

— Encore —

  • 16. Juniper

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