The Thing About Myrkur’s ‘Mausoleum’
Does darkness feed the soul?
The Thing About is a series of short, simple heavy metal reviews. Scroll down to the headings that interest you most or read the whole thing. The previous installment was about the EP Doomed Heavy Metal by Khemmis.
Amalie Bruun, stage name Myrkur, is a musician who follows her inner voice. The result is music that sounds like no one else, and such voices are for treasuring. Her musical journey has traversed black metal and pure folk, folk that still captures the spirit of metal, with a stop along the way for the uncommon Mausoleum (2016). Myrkur is further proof that the screaming genre doesn’t have to scream, and when it doesn’t, it transcends borders.
Myrkur is proud of her Scandinavian heritage. Her blend of genres made for bumpy listening on her third full-length studio album Mareridt (2017), but then she focused exclusively on folk for Folkesange (2020). The latter consisted of traditional folk and a few new compositions on traditional instruments such as frame drum and nyckelharpa. It introduced me to the Norwegian painter Hans Dahl (1848–1937), got me to look up kulning, and was the Plague Nurse’s Album of the Year in 2020. Mausoleum predates both of the above releases and presents Myrkur in yet a different light.
Mausoleum is a live album, but don’t expect rocking out. This is a meditative acoustic album: Myrkur’s voice to guitar, piano and a choir of six young women. There are tracks off her previous releases, and even a cover of Viking metal pioneer Bathory’s “Song to Hall Up High” off Hammerheart (1990), but Myrkur has drastically recast everything in a style at times haunting, at times heavenly: Danny Elfman and John Carpenter pay the church choir a visit. The only thing plugged in is the sound equipment, kindly provided by once black metal, now experimental electronica band Ulver.
The Thing About
The thing about Mausoleum is the venue: Tomba Emmanuelle in Oslo, Norway. Norwegian painter, sculptor and stained-glass artist Emanuel Vigeland (1875–1948) designed the tomb to display his art and house his ashes. Frescos titled Vita adorn the walls of the mausoleum, which the Emanuel Vigeland Museum website describes as follows:
“Lovemaking and procreation in the honour of God takes place in front of a dark and infinite universe, dimly lit by the life-giving, divine sun but also by the blazing fires of hell.”
This setting gives the recording an unearthly quality. The guitar and piano sound with clarity, the voices of the women resound off the walls, and Myrkur’s voice lilts above it all. It’s intimate, and when the musicians close with “Dybt i skoven,” the audience’s response has less in common with arenas of crazed metalheads than with the suit-and-tie gatherings audible on old live recordings of classical music.
The more-black-than-white cover photo shows Myrkur in the mausoleum. She’s crooning, her choir to her right. Vigeland’s murals are visible in the halflight behind them, souls drifting and contorted. The insert features art reminiscent of Andres Serrano’s blood-and-urine and blood-and-semen art on Metallica’s Load (1996) and Reload (1997), but in black-and-white. The color vinyl of Mausoleum’s limited-edition Galaxy Merge Edition has the same aesthetic: a galaxy being born before the gods discovered Technicolor.
Mausoleum isn’t for headbanging, it’s for spiritual sustenance. Even for the crowd that enjoys gothic bands like Dark Sanctuary, acoustic offerings like Winterfylleth’s The Hallowing of Heirdom (2018), or Franz Schubert’s lieder and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s church sonatas, this may take a few listens before you feel it embrace you. Once you do, you’ll realize you’ve found a release like no other.
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