The question, “Is this black metal or not?” has followed Myrkur since her polarizing 2014 self-titled EP. Every time a song was released, that inquiry was bound to appear by an overeager blogger writing 600 messy words or a snarky commenter with poor grammar trying to make a feeble point. Mareridt is bound to generate the same kind of questioning, even though it’s to a point where after two full-length albums, pinpointing Myrkur’s music into a narrow description like a self-righteous snob is pointless.
However, being a music critic means having to act like a self-righteous snob at times, whether intentional or not. People want to know if what they are listening to is safe, expected, predictable; and if it isn’t, they want to know why it isn’t safe, how unexpected it sounds, how unpredictable the finished product is. So this is a good place to say that, yes, Mareridt retains some elements of black metal and, no, it’s not that simple.
Myrkur has never done simple. Take last year’s Mausoleum, a live recording of various songs off her <emM debut reimagined with acoustic guitar and a girls’ choir. It showed the versatility that her songs have, which is something Mareridt also does exceedingly well. Song to song, there’s a sense of the unknown, as there’s no clear clue that the song that’s on now will have anything to do with the one that comes up next.
But it all somehow fits as a whole. A traditional Nordic folk song alongside a stark collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe? Sure, why not. A spirited, folksy instrumental followed by a disturbing spoken word track that feels like a fairy tale acid trip? That’s here too. Bands that attempt this kind of songwriting usually struggle with consistency, but Myrkur has no such problem.
All this constant misdirection is so thrilling that it almost seems rudimentary when the band shifts into black metal mode. Not that it’s boring or anything; the agonizing howls are jarring and Wolves in the Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver performs on a few songs to lend them rhythmic excellence. That side of Myrkur is slimmed down though, not given as much prominence as it was on her other recorded material.
That doesn’t downplay the nightmarish atmosphere hovering over Mareridt. With lyrics written in multiple languages, including English, Myrkur is inviting more listeners into her world of inner demons, emotional carnage and spiritual degradation. Some harsh truths are revealed, and no gentle melodies can mask that pain. That pain transcends genres, and shapes its own path where the struggle between beauty and dissonance never finds a complete release.
(released September 15, 2017 on Relapse Records)