Myrkur: “Out of anything I’ve ever done, this was the most healing. I went through the album’s journey and came up hopeful”

When Amalie Bruun’s son was born, suddenly everything else seemed unimportant. Even her approach to art changed radically, as tales of Scandinavian folklore paled in significance to the new life she had created. Now she has channelled her experience of motherhood into one of the most powerful albums of the year…

Myrkur: “Out of anything I’ve ever done, this was the most healing. I went through the album’s journey and came up hopeful”
Emma Madden
Gobinder Jhitta

It’s the year of Barbie, and everyone’s favourite ’90s Danish exports Aqua are certainly reaping the benefits. But if you search for 'Denmark music' on Google, the one-woman black metal act Myrkur (real name: Amalie Bruun) still beats Barbie Girl Europoppers in the rankings.

Across a decade’s worth of work, Myrkur has recaptured black metal’s vivid grandeur, with a sound that rages war between heaviness and softness, light and dark. Often inspired by folklore and figures from Norse mythology, her songs are like modern retellings of flawed gods, revealing our own humanity back to us. Even more than Aqua, or maybe even Lars Ulrich, Myrkur is your essential musician to hear Danish music at its best.

This year, with her fifth studio album Spine, she’s providing what may be another pivotal moment for the metal genre: an album largely inspired by motherhood.

How has it taken us so long to get here?

Think about it: there’s nothing more metal than motherhood. The gore of forcing out a bloody being from your body, having them survive solely on your lifeblood; being flooded with a feral protectiveness that’ll have you ready to go to war for them whenever danger strikes. Surely this is a subject ripe for one of music’s most aggressive genres. So, again: how has it taken so long?

“You’re not the first to ask because everyone’s like, ‘I don’t think I’ve heard this before,’” Amalie tells Kerrang! with a smile. “But I don't know how I could do a new album after having this completely life-changing fist in the stomach. I couldn’t just be like, ‘Oh, I’ll just write about true love again.’”

It’s 8pm in rural Denmark, and Amalie is joining our call while her husband and infant son draw together in the living room. “He goes to bed very late and sleeps in late, which I really appreciate,” she says.

A few years ago, Amalie was in the hospital, preparing to go into labour. Planning on a water birth, the nurses prepped the pool while she loaded up a playlist with some of her favourite female artists, hoping the likes of Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Björk would bring forth some kind of ancient and divine maternal power that would steer her through the pain of childbirth. But the playlist went unplayed, the pool unused. The birth was far more agonising than she ever could have imagined. “I couldn’t do it,” she says, “even when my husband tried to kiss me I was like, ‘No! No noise, no music, no nothing.’ I just went to a different place.”

And then, he arrived.

In the days following his birth, Amalie found it almost impossible to reconcile the intense connection between mother and son with the divided, alienated world she had birthed him into. It was the middle of lockdown, a time when we were all forcibly removed from the fabric of humanity, when cryptocurrency grifts and soul-sucking AI was already on the rise. The billionaires became wealthier while everyone else became poorer. “Almost everything we perceived to be human was taken away from us during those years,” she explains, “that was very scary to me, it all felt so dystopian.”

She tried to shelter her son away from that world, guiding him instead towards nature and art, “the beautiful things that last”. But a problem soon arose when Amalie tried to make art of her own: she seldom found the solitude necessary to do so. A solo artist for well over a decade, she was used to spending much of her time alone, finding inspiration in long, uninterrupted streams of time with only her thoughts to keep her company. She’d sit, meditate, keep everything on pause for hours upon hours until she finally entered the flow state that allowed her to create. Once it came, she would write all through the night, going for long stretches of time without eating or sleeping. When her son came, almost all of her time and space had been removed.

Even before her son’s birth, there had been relatively long stretches of time between each album – when Amalie was unable to even pick up an instrument – but the process for Spine was drawn out far longer than ever before. Writing could only occur in the tiny pockets of the day and night when her son was napping. Then, when the songs were finally written, the pandemic had made it near-impossible to find a studio for her to record in.

Amalie and her longtime producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Zola Jesus) had their sights set on Iceland, and eventually began recording Spine together in Sigur Rós’ studio. They played and lived in the frozen north for several weeks, with Iceland’s dramatic glacial landscape eventually weaving its way into the music. As a result, Spine, not unlike the land of fire and ice, sounds like a crystallised volcanic explosion.

Across the album’s nine tracks, dream pop and shoegaze collide with blast-beats and never-ending scales: think doom crossed with The Cranberries. While Spine still retains some heavier elements, it’s a little lighter than some of Myrkur’s previous releases, something Amalie credits with her desire to explore choruses and punchy melodies. “I don't really love super melodic metal,” she confesses, “I think it's a very thin line before it gets too cheesy. So for me, it was finding that middle place of darkness that also has these more light choruses.”

Spine is ultimately the result of an artist who found the sweet spot between sunlight and shadow, despite the enormous creative restrictions placed upon its creator.

“You know, when it's urgent enough, when you really need to say it to get it out of your body, you will find the time for it.” The phrase ‘Get it out of your body’ not unlike a rather blunt term for giving birth...

From start to finish, though, Spine is giving life: opening with what sounds like ascending shards of light and then rounded off with a lullaby to her son. You might as well call this album Amalie’s second child. “Out of anything I've ever done, this was the most healing. I went through the album’s journey myself and came up hopeful,” she says.

And in a world as deranged and dangerous as the one her son has inherited, hope is the most important thing...

Spine is out now via Relapse

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