Myrkur – Spine Review

Myrkur apologists and her detractors both have a point. Her 2015 debut M succeeded as folky black metal, but aped predecessors like Ulver’s Bergtatt (1995). Two years later, Mareridt established a unique voice for Myrkur, but suffered from inconsistency. 2020’s Folkesange abandoned metal in favor of acoustic folk. A resounding success and an easy 4.5, Folkesange thrived on Amalie Bruun’s vocal melodies and her knack for arrangement. Its highly anticipated successor Spine resurrects Myrkur’s black metal roots amidst dreamy pop and mid-paced rock. Myrkur’s most atypical album yet, Spine will see both the haters and the admirers claim irrefutable victory. Who’s right?

As always, Myrkur refuses to regurgitate her past output. Only vestiges of the old Myrkurs remain. Spine isn’t a raw black metal album, but simple tremolo riffs drive “Valkyriernes Sang” and rear their head throughout (“Mothlike,” “Devil in the Detail”). The string sections are toned down (“Menneskebarn”), and the Scandinavian folk sensibilities that defined Folkesange only make guest appearances. Rather, much of the record is an unexpected blend of mid-paced rock and synth-laced pop. The instrumental parts range across rhythmic synths (“Mothlike”), minimalist doomy rock (“Spine”), serene keys (“My Blood Is Gold”), and more. Meanwhile, Bruun abandons the expressive vocals of Folkesange and her early extreme vocals, in favor of even-keeled poppy melodies (“Devil in the Detail,” “Like Humans”). If you’re scratching your head at these descriptions, you’re not alone.

Spine by Myrkur

Spine feels like a nine-course meal of flavorless gruel. Myrkur knows how to harness the power of both extremity and beauty; Spine tries both, but neither lands. Aside from one entertaining riff in “Valkyriernes Sang,” the black metal segments consist of thoughtless tremolos that are neither icy nor powerful (“Mothlike,” “Spine”). And other than the promising Ray of Light-adjacent single “Mothlike,” Spine’s pop and rock sections sound limp. Sluggish riffs in overly simple rhythms make tracks like “Like Humans” drag, lacking the requisite emotional weight. Even Bruun’s vocals pale before Myrkur’s earlier albums. Despite scattered highlights like the unhinged vocalizations of “Valkyriernes Sang” and the Adele-esque beauty of “My Blood Is Gold,” Spine’s bland vocal routine fails to showcase Bruun’s range or talent (“Devil in the Detail,” “Blazing Sky”). Contrast this with Folkesange, whose standout vocals ranged from playful (“Fager som en Ros”) to gorgeous (“Gudernes Vilje”) to energetic (“House Carpenter”) to narrative (“Tor i Helheim”). For all its stylistic diversity, Spine lacks creative energy.

Moreover, Spine’s pieces are held together by secondhand Scotch tape. Even the best songs meet untimely ends, with fade-outs or abrupt halts in the action (“Mothlike,” “Valkyriernes Sang”). The blackened sections of the album are also poorly integrated, often showing up uninvited and interrupting pleasant company (“Spine,” “Mothlike”). On the other side, the softer segments don’t get enough space to develop. Closer “Menneskebarn” feels lyrically inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green” or Myrkur’s own demo “Rivers Blessed,” but sounds like a toothless lullaby compared to either of those two. The string arrangements here are admirable, but they don’t hold a candle to the painstaking emotive power of Myrkur’s earlier work (“My Blood Is Gold,” “Devil in the Detail”). There’s a fine line between sounding ethereal and sounding substanceless, and Spine often finds itself on the wrong side of that line. Myrkur had always had a knack for melding disparate ideas into cogent albums, but Spine falters on this front.

This is the most painful review I’ve written yet. I’ll never be a Myrkur hater. Along with Riot’s Thundersteel, Folkesange kept me grounded during the worst of 2020, cementing its place in my heart. And Myrkur’s prior releases, while flawed, earned my excitement for each successive release through their creative composition and impressive performances. But despite Myrkur’s admirable refusal to stagnate, Spine misses the mark. 2023 has no shortage of albums that nail the genres that Myrkur flubs. If you love emotive black metal, listen to Sodomisery; for acoustic folk, try Cinder Well’s beautiful Cadence; for sad rock, Mitski; for blackened doom folk, check out Fredlös. You have better options than Spine. Here’s hoping that Myrkur has some more excellence up her sleeve.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: October 20th, 2023

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