All of a sudden a few months ago, Facebook started vomiting up promos for an eponymous debut EP by a mysterious “one woman black metal band”, Myrkur. This disc has got to be the most hyped metal release since Carcass’ big comeback. Hype always worries me, especially when it’s being sold with gender and/or race or whatever (please, gods, don’t let the next Cynic record be released as the ‘first all-gay death metal album‘). Nevertheless, I was curious, so I gave it a go. Here’s the first teaser track Relapse released which gives a good idea of what you’re in for:
First of all, there’s not a lot on this EP. At less than 30 minutes, it really qualifies as a demo more than a first release. The recording quality is reminiscent of the 90’s “microphone under a pillow” black metal recordings from Norway — think Hordane’s Land or basically anything by Burzum. The “one woman” moniker is plausible, since the album sounds like it could have been recorded using out-of-the-box software on a MacBook without any help from anybody. For the most part, the riffs don’t chart any new territory — you’ve got your basic tremolo-picked counterpoint lines, but they’re competently played and effectively layered without choking amounts of reverb. There are lots of dynamic tempo changes and a few solid head-bangingly thrashy riffs that pop up here and there. The vocals are mostly deeply layered choral-style “girl vocals”, blessedly free of auto-tune, with a few screeches and screams thrown in here and there to satisfy the genre. As far as the howling goes, Angela Gossow she ain’t (closer to Loreena McKennitt on a bad acid trip), but like the guitars, the vocals are competent and occasionally really good.
One thing that disappointed me was the drums. When you say “female black metal band” the first thing I think is — have they found a girl that can play a blast beat? Because that would be like finding a girl that could throw a 90-mph slider. It doesn’t seem like it ought to be impossible, but I’ve yet to see it, so it would be intrinsically exciting were it so. Unlike other musical styles, the evolution of metal has often been driven by technical improvements in playing techniques, and as such the genre has perhaps more in common with sports than with different musical types. Black metal in particular is an endurance sport. So I would have been really amazed to see a woman train her body to the point she could pull off even one song of solid blasting. Alas, I’m pretty sure Myrkur’s drummer is of the electronic variety. Too bad.
Female metal performers are always very popular. An outsider might suspect this is because the overwhelmingly male metalhead population can’t get laid in real life, so they like to drop some eye candy into the musical rotation to keep hope alive that there are actual women out there who might eventually sleep with them. This notion is mostly bullshit — if metalhead women were that rare, I’d still be a virgin — but nevertheless might explain the popularity of a lot of those symphonic eurometal acts.
The reason I like women metal performers is simple: they’re mostly women who don’t give a shit that women aren’t supposed to do whatever it is they’re doing. See, there are three kinds of women out there. First, you’ve got your women that do the sorts of things women have always done, and that’s fine. There are tons of men who do the same thing, and if it makes you happy, that’s cool, not everybody is meant to stand out. Second, you’ve got your women that want to get out of those preconceived gender roles, yet devote most of their energy to bitching about how society keeps trying to cram them back into those roles. These women spend a lot of time trying to cajole the first kind of women into “empowering themselves” and/or railing against the “patriarchy” or some other stupid shit. And then you’ve got women who just ignore all that hogwash and just go do what they want and fuck anybody that doesn’t like it. Mostly all the people I like, male, female, or eunuch, fall into that last category. And since the heart and soul of metal is “fuck anybody that doesn’t like it” women who do metal would seem to start with a leg up over men in the genre.
So I ask: is Myrkur, the one-woman cvlt-as-fvck polymath, that third kind of woman? I’d like to think so, but there’s this troubling report that she’s in fact a New York hipster who has a second life as a model and indie rock performer. Indeed, the track “Dybt I Skoven” (probably the best track on the record) sounds a lot like an indie pop song with the chord progression tremolo picked instead of gently strummed. And if she’s already an established musician, my tendency to forgive the demo-quality recording of this EP is a bit diminished.
Who knows. For better or worse, she wouldn’t be the first hipster in the black metal world (they’re breeding like flies on a dead horse, it seems). If Myrkur wants to keep up the black metal, my advice to her is to can the mysterious solo woman shtick, get a real drummer, and see what happens. I’ll keep listening (for now).