Traditionally, three types of female performers have dominated metal music culture: the rock chick, the diva, and what you could call the asexual female metalhead. Where the first is characterised by her upfront attitude, feigned wildness and highly sexualised look, the second by large gowns, big hair and often operatic singing styles, the third is characterised by acting and dressing more or less like fellow male metalheads. Displaying power as they may, these are all archetypes defined directly or indirectly by the male gaze.
Enter the Danish black metal artist Myrkur. The controversy she has achieved since her debut in the metal music culture in 2014 is second to none this decade. The vocal style, the look, and stage performance of Myrkur, whose real name is Amalie Bruun, formerly known as member of the indie-pop band Ex-Cops, fits not in the least the above-mentioned characteristics and can be perceived as something completely new in the realm of metal music.
A look at the music video for the first single Ulvinde (She-wolf) from her second full-length album Mareridt (Nightmare) released this September, underlines this exact point. Myrkur is a whole other breed than the above-mentioned female archetypes, and she also has the “nerve” to play with the (particularly black) metal trope of the male metalhead as the lone wolf, fleeing from and despising modern society. In a visual language and with a colour palette seemingly inspired by the movie Antichrist by infamous Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, Myrkur lets her angelic voice combine with the harsh black metal screams and instrumentation.
Not only is she walking all over metal tradition and in-culture inheritance by acting as some sort of a Mother North, but her mother character is defined by a serene and feminine Nordic authenticity, a far cry from what is usually seen in metal music videos embracing this element.
Her distinctive womb-protecting hand gestures at the beginning of the music video connects with the three young girls at her feet (the Norns – goddesses of fate in Norse mythology), and with the plethora of children that inhabit all Myrkur’s lyrics.
The dreamy chorus of Ulvinde (“Norge, Norge” – meaning “Norway, Norway”) is yet another link to the authenticity of the Nordic nature, and depicts, in context with black metal instrumentation and the use of Norse symbolism, a longing for a pre-modern or even Pre-Christian world. Where the virginity of Mother North in the Satyricon music video is highly sexualised and defined by the male gaze, Myrkur´s Mother North is independent, protective, and motherly, some may even say threatening – isolated and detached from male gazes.
The same attitude can be experienced during Myrkur’s live shows. As can be seen in the footage from her concert at the 2016 edition of the world’s biggest metal festival, Wacken Open Air, her stage presence leaves no room for sexualising male gazes. With an almost Klaus Kinski-like intensity in her staring eyes, she confronts the still mainly male metal audience with a feminine confidence that allows no extraneous gazes to define her persona and genre-bending art. No wonder Myrkur causes frustration for conservative-minded metalheads, who traditionally yell inauthenticity and cultural appropriation whenever the chance occurs. Regardless, Myrkur´s work is pushing the boundaries of metal music. Hopefully, her strong visual side can set a fashion for future artists, and can inspire other female metal artists to let out their anti-beasts – and, thereby, refuse to be subjects of archaic roles and patterns set for women in metal.
Words: Johnny Harboe
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu