If the anonymity of MYRKUR was enough to set tongues wagging when her debut EP dropped last year, her identity caused even more of a stirring. Amalie Bruun, the project’s progenitor and protagonist, may not be well-known for her work within the metal scene but one thing is for certain – with M, she has created one of the most striking black metal releases of the year. With birdsong in the air, we caught up with Bruun at home to discuss the past, present and future of Myrkur.
First of all, congratulations on the release of the album. It sounds absolutely wonderful. How long have you been working on these songs?
They go back many years and then some of them I wrote right before the recording. It’s very scattered.
Why did you originally starting writing songs as Myrkur?
It’s just the music that I love. I played violin in a classical orchestra when I was growing up and I used to dance ballet. I used to belong to certain groups where you could appreciate these interests but then that faded out but my love for it never died, especially not the Nordic folk music and metal. I guess writing and playing and learning different songs was my own way of worshipping it by myself, but it was really just for myself. I feel like I’ve played every Nordic folk song there is and so I wanted to write new ones – I’ve listened to Ulver’s Bergtatt EP so many times that I’m almost sad when it ends because I know there’s no more so I wanted to continue that sound.
You managed to work with Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver), who produced this album. Did he seek you out?
I was told after the EP did so well that now is the time to do the full-length album and I really did not feel like doing that because I pretty much did the EP all alone. I just couldn’t see how I was going to make a whole album this way so I said I would do it with a producer, but only if it was with Kristoffer from Ulver and then he actually said yes to doing it. He liked the EP and reached out via email, so then him and I started emailing, sending demos and stuff like this, and then I went to Oslo.
You also worked with some great musicians on this album, including members of Mayhem and Dødheimsgard. How did it feel bringing in outsiders to work on material given that you had typically worked alone?
It felt… good! It was something that Kris put together. He had a bigger vision of who would sound good on it and fortunately for me they all wanted to be involved. It’s the bands that I’ve been listening to so I knew that they would understand my vision; where I was coming from and where I would like to go with it. That was pretty easily, actually.
You’ve taken lots of inspiration from Norse mythology and folklore for Myrkur’s lyrics. Were there any sagas which you used for inspiration on M?
There’s a song on there called “Vølvens Spådom”, which is just a choir piece, and that is one of the poems from the sagas. It’s about a truth-teller – I think all cultures have these stories, about women who predict the future. I took the poem and then wrote the melody for it, and made the choir arrangement. It’s a mix of different things, and different goddesses, but also stuff from real life – the stories that I would like to tell with this music. I wasn’t trying to re-tell the sagas.
“I made a record that has its roots in black metal, because of the songwriting and the people I worked with, but it’s going for a future sound. I’m not trying to make a throwback album. I really have no interest in that.”
What about your environment? Do you feel that having the nature you currently have around you is necessary for this kind of music?
It certainly helps, being close to nature, but I feel that way about everything in life. I can be away from it for a certain time and it’s fine, but I really stop enjoying life when I don’t feel this nature that I love so much. It’s very specific. I think everyone searches for that sense of ‘home’ wherever you are and I really have found it in this nature that I grew up in, but I think you can write wherever you want to.
The name Myrkur means ‘darkness’ in Icelandic. Do you have familial ties with Iceland or does your connection come from the shared Norse culture?
It’s more the last one. I love Iceland and I love Icelandic people. You have this country with 300,000 people but it’s the size of the UK. It’s very big and I think that makes the people a little ‘out there.’ They have so much space to be themselves and you can certainly feel that. Most of them speak Danish too because we used to own them up until 1973. I remember going there 10, 15 years ago and I got stuck because there was a snowstorm. My flight couldn’t get back to Denmark so I had to stay there for New Years Eve alone. I met these Icelandic women who were very drunk but they were still driving in this crazy storm. I loved it so much, and the day before we went swimming in those hot springs – you have this snowstorm whipping your face and your body is hot. It’s so dark and I felt this connection to this darkness. It’s like you can just disappear and you feel oddly safe in it, even in this chaos with drunk people driving you around. I feel connected to it for other reasons too.
Does that ‘northern darkness’ have any bearing on your work – the extreme conditions of light, of weather?
Yes, very much. Another thing about travelling to other places is you realise what it is that makes your country your country. At the risk of sounding a little clichéd, I always felt so happy in the darkness and what other people would describe as depressing weather. To me, that hot sunshine in the summer is very depressing. I think I have reversed winter depression, where I can’t even exist in these hot countries, so I think it’s very much inside of us up here. We connect with it and it’s reflected in culture and music a lot.
What were your first experience of black metal?
It was like a fist in the face experience. As a child, I liked the classics. I remember hearing Metallica and Slayer and really liking it, thinking it was very fun and exciting music. As a teenager, I was introduced to black metal and I could not believe that something could be so beautiful and ugly at the same time. It was really hard hitting and it just captures this Scandinavian musical universe, with these chord progressions and everything. Also, because I love classical music so much, it reminded me of playing the violin, the bow techniques and the tremolo picking on the guitar and the stabs you do on the bow. You can make these string instruments sound very ugly, but also beautiful and earthy. Musically, it had a very powerful impact on me and it still does. I’m one of those people who genuinely liked black metal for the music which is also why I don’t just like all black metal. If I don’t feel that thing that other bands had I can’t connect with it. It’s a tough one to put your finger on. So many try to replicate the sound from the second wave and not the spirit, but someone like Ulver could sound so very different but still capture the spirit. Yeah, it’s hard to explain why Bergtatt is so black metal, besides the fact that it was made in the few years where there was a black metal scene that was actually real. There was only about four years where it actually mattered. Kris was about 16 when he wrote those songs. Now, having gone there and worked with those people, rehearsing in Mayhem’s old space, I have a different look on all that now. Kristoffer was very generous with all his friends and the stories, and he has all these first edition demos of everything. I was afraid when I went there he wouldn’t want to share so much because he’s notoriously anti-social and because he hasn’t done black metal for years but he has this huge bleeding heart for black metal still, and I think he enjoyed someone like me who is interested in it from a very pure point of view. Not because of the church burnings but because of the music that he loves so much.
“… being close to nature, but I feel that way about everything in life… I think everyone searches for that sense of ‘home’ wherever you are and I really have found it in this nature that I grew up in…”
You’ve spoken of Edvard Grieg as being the godfather of black metal. Was this because he captured that same essence?
I think it’s because he was an inspiration to Scandinavia in general and when he came out with Peer Gynt, he was very much criticised by the cultural elitists, saying “What is this troll romantic shit? This is so juvenile.” I agree that maybe the other European composers are more refined, but in a way there’s a naive sense with Grieg and there’s also a very pure expression; a capturing of the essence of Scandinavian nature and culture. I just love this combination of darkness and beauty and light that he has in his songs. It’s so melodic and melancholy – I love this melancholy sound.
Black metal is renowned for being very focused on ‘purity’ within the genre. Do you feel that it is difficult for outsiders to be accepted within the genre because of this?
It depends on what you’re going for. I think some people are mad because they would like to question my realness in this but then I go on and work with Ulver and Mayhem and they wanted to work with me as well – it goes both ways. My motivation is not to be accepted by some person who cares about genre. A lot of people seem very busy on working out the definition of what black metal is. Again, I’d like to go back to the fact that there was a scene in the ‘90s and that was it – now, we’re just appreciating it. I made a record that has its roots in black metal, because of the songwriting and the people I worked with, but it’s going for a future sound. I’m not trying to make a throwback album. I really have no interest in that.
Both the EP and the album are fantastic bodies of work but what do you feel was the biggest leap from one to the other?
First of all, the EP sounds like shit but I’m okay with that. I recorded it myself and I mixed it myself, so it was what it was. I think it captured a moment I would not be able to re-record so I was happy with it. With this album, since I could get good studios and good musicians, I thought “Let’s do that, then. Let’s make a really big, symphonic, ambitious, cinematic, dark album.” Now I can do it, and we did. I can’t believe that we did it. I really did not think that all these combinations could work but I do now.
It certainly is a cinematic work – it feels very ‘visual’, if that makes sense. Do you have any scenes or images in mind as you write and record?
I think I do but I would not be able to tell you what it is. It’s not very specific, it’s a bigger thing. I think it’s quite relatable. You don’t have to have seen or read a certain thing to feel it and especially if you are interested in the kinds of things that I am, which is why I felt it was easy to record with these guys instead of difficult. I think they could sense it just by seeing what I had written.
With your first live show coming up at Roskilde, do you feel that sharing your songs in this way will change how you feel about them?
Yeah, I do. It’s much more real now. It’s a very weird feeling but they’ve become much more individual pieces of work now.
Was it ever a plan to make Myrkur a live act?
No, none of this was a plan. I did not even want to send out the first EP and it certainly was not supposed to be heard by so many people. I certainly was not supposed to play live either but I’ve given up on trying to control where this is going. I guess this is what I’m doing now.
The Onde Børn video is a very fitting, striking work. How did that shoot come about and how does it tie in with the song’s themes?
That shoot came up because I was having lunch with my old friend from school – I met her in 6th grade. She’s credited as editor but she makes documentaries and just did a big piece on the queen of Denmark. She said, “Shouldn’t I do a music video for you? I like some of the songs on the EP.” And I said, “No! You should do a new song!” She got very excited and said, “Okay, we’re going to drive six hours from here and we’re going to shoot for four days, at 3am every day.” It was on this awful beach and it’s probably the wildest place in Denmark. It looks like the moon, it doesn’t look like anything else in Denmark. We talked for many hours about what we wanted to express with it and I thought I should have a child, who would be my evil child – Onde Børn means evil children – but she should also be a version of me. There should be a suicide and rebirth, and the location is just perfect for that. Everything is pure and undisturbed. You can’t do anything there – I don’t think we were even supposed to light that big thing on fire. We went for three days, shooting at 3am and 9pm, and I almost drowned in the ocean. I had so many bruises and cuts after lying in that crazy grass, which is very sharp and very painful. It was a very painful video to make and I really suffered, but I wanted that suffering to be shown in the video. I didn’t have make-up or hair done, I just wanted the suffering to come out and I think I did. You can’t really fake that. I was so exhausted and unhappy doing it, but it was good. Good suffering.
On the subject of children, what is your earliest memory and what memory stands out the most?
What’s my earliest memory? I wish I could say being born. Wouldn’t that be cool? I don’t know which was first, it’s all a big mush, but I have a really bad one that I can think of, when I found this dead squirrel in the garden when I was walking around singing, probably scaring everyone because there’s this child alone, singing. I sort of adopted this dead squirrel and had it in my room but after a few days I found it had been completely eaten by maggots – I just hadn’t noticed because I hadn’t turned it around. Flipping it over and seeing all these worms coming out of it was really interesting and horrifying at the same time. Since then, I’ve stopped picking up dead animals but I did once adopt a live seagull my friend and I found on the harbour. It was a baby and looked like it had a broken wing so I picked it up, put it in the basket of my bicycle and took it home. He lived in a cardboard box in my room and one day I found out that his wing wasn’t broken, he just hadn’t learned how to fly yet so we took him outside, threw him up in the air and he flew away. We thought we were heroes because we had fixed him.