M, one-woman black metal act Myrkur's debut long-player, was one of the most hotly discussed genre recordings of 2015. More often than not, conversation and criticism centered around the abundant creative writing and music-making that delivered a necessary evolutionary step for black metal. When it was revealed that Myrkur was actually the alter ego of Danish indie pop musician Amalie Bruun (Ex Cops), however, black metal's extremist fringes erupted in a thinly disguised misogynist attack campaign. Thankfully, Bruun -- and her label, Relapse -- paid no mind. The live Mausoleum offers radically stripped-down reworkings of seven M tracks, an inventive cover of Bathory's "Song to Hall Up High," and one new song ("Den Lille Piges Dod"). The title reflects the location of the recording: the historic Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Norway, chosen for its gorgeous acoustics. Bruun sings and plays piano. She is accompanied by the Norwegian Girls Choir and Snohvitt guitarist H?vard Jorgensen (also ex-Ulver).
This set peels back the dynamic and production layers to reveal the European folk aesthetics at the heart of M's songs -- and, if we're being honest, in early black metal itself (where do you think those strange minor modal melodies and chants came from, after all). The music here is intimate and delicate, eerie, and icily beautiful, but it is also executed with authority. Check "Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne," with its wordless cascading intro -- underscored by the choral voices and the cavernous reverb of the venue -- and pronounced middle-register piano chords. Its melody exists at two intersecting planes: the lead vocal seems to come from the subterranean earth itself, while the chorus comes from above, adding a spiritual dimension. It hovers atmospherically in the twilight, but its emotion is resonant. The contrapuntal interplay between Bruun's piano and H?vard's acoustic guitar on "Den Lille Piges Dod" offers a classical dimension to a folk song. The singer's alto bridges them with a heartbreakingly sorrowful narrative. On "Frosne Vind," H?vard gently inverts the changes on the age-old melody of "Greensleeves," as Bruun and the choir deliver a five-part harmonic countermelody that transforms it. The Bathory cover is almost funereally slow; sans piano, its presentation balances medieval and renaissance harmony with a progressive pop melody. Shorn of its anthemic, buzzing electric guitars and fat double-timed kick drums, "Dypt I Skoven" is a Gothic hymn, somber yet tender and moving. Mausoleum is a rare recording in that its appeal is vast. More liberal fans of classical crossover, darkwave, and even metal itself can easily -- and should -- embrace it. Underneath all the power of M lies a sophisticated music that reveals its lineage and sources of inspiration, and in doing so illuminates another aspect of Myrkur's signature talent. ~ Thom Jurek
Spin - "[T[his release gives us an intimate look at one artist's battle against her own canon. It's a war she ends up winning, with considerable grace."
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