I went into Mareridt expecting something akin to M, Myrkur’s first release. My overall impression of M was that it felt a little scattered, and a bit uncertain; while I enjoyed each of the songs, I didn’t think they blended together into a coherent whole, and I didn’t feel a strong sense of musical identity in the album. While I enjoy artists who explore varying styles, I like it best when those styles have a certain unifying identity in the songwriting, some consistent quality that succeeds in bringing together those different sounds, and to me M didn’t seem to accomplish this. I came to this new release expecting another collection of songs I would like, but not necessarily a cohesive album. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when Mareridt was exactly the opposite. Though the album has a relatively wide range, juxtaposing black and doom metal with ambient, and occasionally almost cinematic, folk music, there’s a sense of unity, a feeling that despite being different musically, these songs all come from the same place.

Though Myrkur is often billed as a black metal project, this record is not, for the most part, a black metal record. That statement isn’t meant in the black metal elitist “this is not trve” sense, but rather as an acknowledgement of a different focus within the music. Of the eleven songs that comprise the album, only six can be considered “metal”, and two of them, Funeral and The Serpent, fall more into a gothic style of doom metal than anything that could be considered black metal. Certainly, Mareridt contains black metal songs; the subdued title track is immediately followed by Måneblôt, which opens with shrieking and snarling over cold tremolo picking, and whose drums, aside from the acoustic folk bridge, never drop from straight blastbeats. Later on in the album several songs show clear influence from acts like Alcest, blending ethereal singing and triumphant shoegazing guitars with shrieking and aggressive drums, an influence made especially apparent on Elleskudt and Gladiatrix. However, the bulk of the album, and indeed, many sections of the aforementioned tracks, tends to lean towards an atmospheric style, a sound much more inspired by the dark ambient folk of Wardruna (most obvious on Kætteren) or the doomy, occultish themes of collaborator Chelsea Wolfe (obviously on Funeral, but also felt in The Serpent).

While there are doubtless some who will be disappointed by a reduced focus on black metal, the songwriting on Mareridt benefits from the darker, more folk inspired sound. Amalie Bruun has a gorgeous voice, and some of the strongest moments on the record come when the wall of guitars and drums step back and leave her voice alone, as in Mareridt, Crown, and De Tre Piker. Crown in particular is beautiful, and is the most “cinematic” track on the album, being mostly piano with some string/synth swells, and vocals that alternate between a low, almost spoken delivery and ethereal highs reminiscent of Sigur Ros. While I certainly enjoy the more metal oriented tracks, I find myself preferring the quiet stuff and wishing for more of this more subdued style. It’s not so much that anything is “wrong” with the metal, and I think all of the varying styles on this album are well executed, I just really, really love the darker, quieter moments of this album, and I think a Myrkur album with a heavy dose of inspiration (or collaboration?) from, say, Emma Ruth Rundle, would be absolutely incredible. Watching the acoustic live performance of Funeral only makes me more certain; while the album version is a nice chunk of atmospheric doom, the stripped down duet feels a lot more powerful to me.

I don’t have too much negative to say, but Mareridt does have its flaws. The biggest problem is Børnehjem, the closing track. An ambient spoken word piece, Børnehjem consists largely of heavily processed spoken word, backed by a wordless choir and synths, alluding to some kind of trauma or troubled childhood. While it does succeed in being a little unsettling, this is the only track that doesn’t blend with the others, feeling almost more like a Die Antwoord interlude than a part of this album. Regardless of anyone’s feelings on Die Antwoord, Børnehjem is very jarring in comparison to the rest of the music, and an odd note to close the album on, especially considering that preceding track, Kætteren, is a Wardruna or Faun-esque instrumental folk piece that would have made a great outro for the album. Other than that, my only complaint is that certain parts of The Serpent and Ulvinde start to feel a little monotonous and a little lacking in energy, but it doesn’t detract too much from the songs, and ultimately doesn’t impact the album in a major way. Despite those few drawbacks, this is an album I feel comfortable recommending to fans of this style, and an album that will probably be in my own listening rotation for a while.

Overall, Mareridt feels like Myrkur found her aesthetic. Her career has been oddly controversial, drawing ire from a lot of the black metal scene for her perceived inauthenticity, stemming largely from her poppier, non-Myrkur music and her acting career. I had wondered if she might feel some need to “prove herself” to the metal community, and write a follow-up that was deliberately harsher and more trve than her previous work. Mareridt is certainly not that, and while I doubtless would have enjoyed that too, I’m glad Myrkur chose to pursue this direction instead.