Blasfemia America II: The Völva

All free Norse and Germanic women were expected to be versed in magic, but some women more so than others. Most of the Germanic tribes, as well as the Vikings, nurtured groups of wise women, witches or priestesses who usually lived unmarried (though not necessarily in celibacy), and who could, it appears, travel alone wherever they liked without fear. A woman who carried the wand of the witch would never be harmed. They were allied with the fate goddesses and thus wielded the greatest of powers. In the Viking Age Norse context, these women were called the völur, singular völva. The literal translation of this title is “Wand-Wed” or “Staff-Carrier”. – Freyia Völundarhúsins,”The Völva – The Norse Witch”, Lady Of The Labyrith’s Old Norse Mythology Website

Two bands last night. I could have bought merch from both. I chose just to buy a shirt from Myrkur.

Two bands last night. I could have bought merch from both. I chose just to buy a shirt from Myrkur.

Two white spots highlight an electric piano downstage right. A tall, lithe woman steps in to the rotating spots.  She strikes the opening piano chords of “Den Lille Piges Død”. They don’t so much break the silence as open it. Over the piano comes this floating, ethereal soprano voice. The words are Danish. That doesn’t matter. There is nothing in that moment other than the woman – Amalie Bruun, who is Myrkur on record – and her voice, the piano, mixing together as sound to invite us, the audience, to something . . . something special? There’s seduction in that moment. There’s a promise of something.

Then the band enters, and you haven’t even noticed they walked out in the dark, backs turned to the audience until they lights come up, after they’ve started playing. On record, Bruun’s voice breaks in to a yowl; in concert, however, she and the band play until her voice enters, so powerful yet still lilting, flying above the intensity of the guitars and drum.

On the front of the stage is a microphone stand in the shape of an old tree branch or root, weaving and splitting in two. On the next song, “Hævnen”, she places the microphone in to which she’d been singing on the stage right side. She picks up the stage left microphone. The light is better. Her long, beautiful face framed by long blonde Nordic hair, her severe cheekbones adding something dignified remind you just how fragile she looks. Powerful, yes, yet fragile, her skin so pale it’s translucent. All those thoughts pass through your head in a moment as you remember that gorgeous soprano, looking upon this woman draped in a dress with drooping sleeves.

A shriek unlike anything you’ve ever heard in any musical context echoes through the hall. This isn’t the growl of death metal or the piercing screams of Black Metal. This is sui generis. Reverb is on high, and the shriek bounces around the hall and in that moment you see the woman who emitted the shriek transformed. She is no longer the ethereal Norse spirit who lovely soprano seems not to care about the thundering music. Her eyes are wide, her mouth gaping, and you realize you aren’t in the presence just of a talented musician. This is someone from the Old World, a world of dark forests and dangers, a world where such women were both feared and revered, feared because they were revered and revered because they were feared. This moment is unlike anything you’ve experienced.

I know that some of you have noticed you can no longer send me private messages. The reason for this is I am getting tired of the death threats and hate emails. Believe it or not but that s*** looses it’s charm after a while. I am of course sad that I then no longer can receive personal letters from supporters + fan-art in private messages, but please continue to post your beautiful pieces on this page or to my instagram @myrkurmyrkur

Through the powerful “Onde børn” you might have forgotten that moment, just a few moments before when the performer in front of you was revealed as something more than just another extremely talented musician. Then comes “Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne”, and having retrieved her guitar for the previous number, she stands in front of the stage right microphone and sings, strumming the chords until a break in the song. In a blink she’s shifted left and the shriek fills the auditorium again, a shriek she answers with a cry, then another shift left and yet another shriek. The spell she’s weaving, a mix of music and sound (they are not the same thing) and stage presence and physical appearance makes you forget the fear the shrieks bring. They’re part of the performance, you think. Mesmerized by the sounds, you force yourself to look past the transformation you’ve witnessed, from ingenue to otherworldly caster of spells, you fall deeper in to the illusion that this is just another rock performance.

It isn’t. Amalie Bruun has you now.

So here’s the deal. If you hate Myrkur, here’s a simple, effective way to isolate yourself from it: don’t fucking listen to it. Don’t stalk the band’s Facebook page, or Twitter, or Instagram. Don’t read the reviews, or go to the shows, or buy the records. Smugly declare to all and sundry that Myrkur is false hipster bullshit, that you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to it. Furiously post about how fake and no-good her music is, and how girls shouldn’t play black metal and how black metal is only for you and your friends AND NO ONE ELSE ARGHHH on your forum of choice until your goddamn fingers fall off… but leave her out of it, because the only crime Amalie Bruun is guilty of is loving the same dark, ugly, twisted music that you do, and of interpreting to it in a way that people—even people who don’t own the entire Master’s Hammer discography or spend all their time listening to LLN bootlegs—respond to. She doesn’t deserve your scorn, or your abuse, and neither does anyone else who finds solace or inspiration in this music. It’s weak, and one thing that black metal has never condoned is weakness.

Myrkur’s set continues and the movement back and forth, from soaring soprano to piercing shrieks no longer matter. In the moment, all there is, is the sound. The sound and the presence, a presence that’s still enticing, still inviting. As she sings her clear vocals, her face is soft, her hair hanging loosely around her face.

Ammalie Bruun

Amalie Bruun

It is that face that you think is real. It is that voice that calls to you, invites you in, a smile and a hint of something more always there.

Then, she moves to the other microphone and that falls away. Even as her vocals reverberate around the hall an unearthly wail that terrifies, he gaping eyes and mouth, the lights turning her Nordic cheekbones to something skeletal, her hair no longer hanging loosely but now wild. You see the Völva, her wand the guitar, and you realize you’ve been under her spell since the moment those twin spots came up and there is no going back.

Ammalie Bruun and her wand

Amalie Bruun and her wand

As her set winds up, the other musicians leave the stage and it’s just Amalie now, Amalie and her piano, playing a cover of Bathory’s ” Song To Hall Up High”, and once again she’s backlit by two rotating white spots, her face largely hidden. You hear the closing verse:

Northern wind take my song up high
To the Hall of glory in the sky
So its gates shall greet me open wide
When my time has come to die

and that last word, “die” seems to linger, and Ammalie says, “Good night”, and you know this has been more than just a concert experience. It is a spell, a magic cast upon 1300 unsuspecting Black Metal fans to join her, join with her, every moment, ever bit of light and sound prepared to seduce then overcome then overwhelm the listeners’s hesitation. “Die” is what has happened. As you watch Amalie walk off stage, you see her smile. Is that because the set was well done? Or is it because the spell was successful?

Since emerging a couple years back, Myrkur has been the center of much controversy within the Black Metal scene. As the highlighted quotes above note, Amalie Bruun has even received death threats because, for some reason, Black Metal fans seem unable to understand what it is Myrkur is about. They’ve called it “Hipster Black Metal”, as if any self-respecting hipster would listen to Myrkur. They’ve forced her to take down the band’s Facebook page. The comment sections on the pages linked above are filled with dismissals of Myrkur’s music as either “false” Black Metal or, worse, stealing riffs and sounds from much-loved Black Folk band Ulver. That Ulver’s leader produced Myrkur’s debut, however, puts the lie to that claim.

I wonder if the people who disparage her music have actually listened to it. They certainly haven’t experienced the band live, a time during which something powerful, something from a time lost and forgotten, happens and what should just be the opening set by an up-an-coming band is revealed for what it really is: a kind of magic only the Wand-Bearer can cast. I admire Behemoth for having Myrkur tour with them. Then again, Behemoth has always taken risks and has been around long enough and is respected enough to be able to do this without it hurting them.

After the show, I went to get tour t-shirts. While standing toward the back of the room, I heard a small, high-pitched voice say, “Well, we sounded like shit tonight.” I looked over. It was Amalie Bruun, standing by Myrkur’s merchandise table. I went over and shook her hand. I told her the band’s set was amazing. I think I gaped a bit. Not wanting to be that guy, I bought my t-shirt and left, thanking her again as I walked away. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t get a picture with her.

That’s OK, though. With her wand strung with steel and amplified to increase its power, Amalie Bruun and Myrkur have managed to cast a spell and gain a real fan. That, I think, is the best magic of all.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.

Howdy! Thanks for reading. Really. Be nice and remember - I'm like Roz from Monster's Inc. I'm always watching.

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