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Danish Black Metal Artist Myrkur On Her New Album, Primal Screams and Tetris

Shan_Paper_4.jpgRoughly a year has passed since Danish black metal artist Myrkur released her striking -- and mysterious -- self-titled debut EP. Since then, listeners, metal heads and music writers alike have wondered about the one-woman force behind the project, who initially chose to keep her identity hidden. But now she's come forward -- Amalie Bruun, the Ex-Cops frontwoman, Chanel model and excellent Jenny stand-in opposite Michael Bolton's Forrest Gump in a Lonely Island parody video. That Bruun originally preferred to be anonymous is somewhat understandable -- she's exceptionally beautiful and in an industry where all too often looks are valued more than talent, it was a savvy choice to let her music speak for itself and for interest to grow around her songs and not her physical features.

On August 21st, Bruun-as-Myrkur, which means "darkness" in Icelandic, will release M (Relapse), a full length album that blends black metal with traditional Nordic folk music and references to classical compositions. M (actually Myrkur's symbol, the Nordic Rune/symbol of Mannaz {Mankind}) was recorded in various locations throughout Norway and was produced by vocalist and experimental metal musician Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg of the celebrated Norwegian music collective Ulver, whose Wagner-meets-Deafheaven aesthetic is all over the album. But make no mistake, the record and its overall vision belongs to multi-instrumentalist Bruun, who recorded and arranged each individual demo track before taking them to Rygg, supplying most of the album's piano and guitar, as well as her vocals, which volley between harmoniously layered choir arrangements and her ferocious, trademark primal scream.

We caught up with Bruun at Jimmy Hendrix' famed Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan's West Village to talk about her new record, where she got that killer scream and why she sees Tetris pieces in her dreams. Read her thoughts and hear album track "Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne," which we're excited to be exclusively premiering, below.

What are you up to when you're not in the studio making music? What do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of time outdoors, things like hiking and I travel quite a bit, even if it's just between Scandinavian countries. But really, I like to play music for fun. I get a little nerdy with classical music. I like to dissect it and figure out why it speaks to me. I just recorded this Chopin style version of the Tetris song for example -- that classic Russian folk song.

Wow. It's hard to listen to that without getting a bit stressed out-level 10.

Tetris is my favorite game. Well, of that type of thing. Often I see the pieces in my dreams if I play too much. Though, it's better if I keep my mind occupied.

If you were a Tetris piece...

Which one would I be? Well, when you play a lot the best piece is always the "long piece."

The "long piece" is a metaphor for so much, it can be your...


I was going to say lover. I think I would be one of those not quite long pieces, the "L piece."

I hate the "L piece." Though, I'm not the "long piece" either. I'm more like the "t" I get the most joy from that one. It's flexible. It does a lot of things, like my music. [laughs]

Looking at other Danish artists like Lars Von Trier and Nicolas Winding Refn, there's a particular type of irreverence or coldness associated with their projects. Do any of those feelings make their way into your music?

They've made their way into the whole project. I'm a very unapologetic artist. There are moments on the album that are overly emotional and melancholy and then there's total harshness and coldness -- that combination is interesting. In Scandinavia we have "The Law of Jante" [a concept created by the Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose found in his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks]. It's about a small town mentality, a sort of Ten Commandments that prevent people from celebrating individual success. You're not allowed to have "big arms" as we say over there. The young people in Denmark are tired of this I think. We're rebelling. Though, on the other hand, sometimes I vomit when I see certain behavior here [in America].

Me too.

Why do you need to be heard so much? Shut up!

Do you see this album crossing over to mainstream American audiences or listeners who may exist outside of a particular metal or hardcore scene?

Yes I do. It was one of my goals as a musician. In Denmark we don't have as much respect for the genre of metal and the art form that it is, in contrast to Norway for example, where it's played in most venues and written about in every newspaper. It's part of the cultural heritage there.

Are you careful to highlight or respect the traditions of the genre?

I respect the traditions and I take it with me, though I'm not sure what I do is just metal. It's a hybrid. Really, it's a lifestyle and part of my overall identity. I get it. People can be protective. When you like metal, your heart bleeds for metal. In fact, I just read that metal is the most streamed genre on Spotify, but you would never know because it's not shoved down your throats on TV or the radio all the time.

Let's talk about your scream. When did you know you could go there, not just vocally, but emotionally?

I was born in the town I still live in, HØrsholm, in Northern Denmark, by the coast. It is stunning. Growing up, I had the freedom to walk alone in the forest. That's where I first discovered that primal scream that connects deep down in your stomach. I knew immediately how powerful it was.

Shan_7.jpgWhat compelled you to scream at the time? Was it just the vastness or something more personal?

I wanted to see if there was an echo, if birds would fly from the trees, if anyone would hear me and be bothered or worried and I guess also just anger, hate, a desire for revenge maybe, or frustration. Since then I've made a thing out of doing that. I always encourage people to find a deserted place and explore their primal scream.

Nowadays, what are you using as "fuel" to summon that scream?

I think a lot of things are harder for me than "normal" people. I take in everything so much. I just don't have a filter, unfortunately. I'm very in touch with my emotions, but normal tasks, or even being around people for fun is very hard for me. It's not that I'm not interested in having your typical social life; it's just difficult for me.

Do you have siblings?

Two brothers -- one older, one younger. I'm actually a little sister, psychologically, as my little brother is just a teenager and he's from a new marriage. But I like the idea of being a big sister to him. I don't get to see him, or my father so much, he's a musician, so...My big brother is proud of me, I know that much.

What about your mother?

She's so proud and so happy. She loves Myrkur. She went to the first concert I played in Denmark and she said to me, "That was 100% you. This is the woman I know." That meant a lot to me, as I've always been a torn, incomplete person.

Why do you think that is?

I've had two separate lives in music, two separate families...

How old were you when your parents divorced?

Nine. But my family was good to me. I am not complaining. Though I would be lying if I said I didn't retreat into music, whether it was piano, or violin, or later guitar. I wasn't a very friendly girl when I was young. I would invite kids over, direct them in plays I had written from my piano, and when it was over, I would tell my mom to make them leave. [laughs]

Are you comfortable with the term "black metal" being used to describe your music? Do you ever feel confined by the tropes of the genre?

Musicians came up with the term "black metal" in Norway in the '90s to distance themselves from death metal, to describe something less "big arms" hardcore and more low-fi, something more of a belief system, a whole universe. I like everything black metal represents. I love the music, truly. People want to know if I got into it for other reasons or motives of some kind and I always say no. When I heard black metal for the first time, I knew that was it for me.

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