Gender in Black Metal: a cultural-historical note on Myrkur’s new album ‘Mareridt’

Myrkur is a one-woman Black Metal project from Denmark. It is the brainchild of songwriter/pianist/guitarist/singer Amalie Bruun. Bruun started out performing with her father and the band Ex Cops as a Rock, Pop and Alternative artist. In 2014, she published, now as Myrkur, an eponymous EP, followed by the debut album ‘M’ in 2015, and a live EP, ‘Mausoleum’, in 2016.1 All of these records gathered rather wide attention, were partially well acclaimed by critics. But also they were partially criticized as being ‘superficial’, ‘not real Black Metal’ or a ‘sell-out’.

All the way through these debates – as a cultural discourse of most recent history of European and global Extreme Metal – the fact that Myrkur is led and controlled by a woman was one of the most intensely discussed issues. Bruun even received death threats on her Facebook page. So, this discourse on Myrkur and her art, first and foremost, is a history of gender in Extreme Metal.

On 15th September 2017, Bruun as Myrkur released her second full-lenght record, ‘Mareridt’.2 From a musical point of view, this album is a progression of her work on the mentioned earlier records. However, aggressive parts of Extreme and Black Metal riffing, blastbeasts and guttural screaming (by Bruun) got fewer; and on two tracks (‘Funeral’, ‘Kvindelil’) the artist cooperates with singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe. This new record, at least at its point of release, was well received.3 This is the videoclip to the track ‘Ulvinde’ which accompanied Mareridt’s release:

This videoclip, representing Myrkur’s current identity as an artist, features a combination of hybrid emotional aspects and strategies of narration which are rather unusual in Black Metal: Bruun is shown, on the one hand, as the classic female gender stereotype of a ‘soft woman’ in a bright dress; but then there also are sequences of female aggression where blood is dripping from the artist’s mouth and she is screaming furiously. Both styles and modes of female gender construction are shown alternating throughout the clip. Thus, Amalie Bruun as Myrkur is both: a ‘soft woman’ and a harshly screaming, seemingly suffering female.

From a cultural-historical point of view, especially this videoclip but also the mentioned records and the artist’s live shows are a remarkable strand of discourse. Here, the usual stereotype of male, Northern gutturally screaming Black Metal artists is trangressed, played with; in some ways (ie. the alternating strategies of softness and fury in the ‘Ulvinde’ clip), it even is dealt with and discussed, at least shown visually in a parodistic and ironic manner. The irony is – and remains – that Myrkur can be both: ‘tender’ woman and aggressive Black Metal frontwoman. The death threats sent to the artist by male fans give this cultural history of gender a bitter taste,  yet a transgressive and important quality too.


  1. Cf. Myrkur, Myrkur, released 12th September 2014, Relapse Records; idem, M, released  21st August 2015, Relapse Records; idem, Mausoleum,  released 19th August 2016, Relapse Records. 

  2. Cf. Myrkur, Mareridt, released 15th September 2017, Relapse Records 

  3. Cf., for instance, the review of the album on the German webzine www.metal.de, receiving a score of nine out of ten points; Url: http://www.metal.de/reviews/myrkur-mareridt-275140/, accessed 15/09/2017. 

‘Colourful Black Metal’: Darkthrone’s New Album ‘Arctic Thunder’

On 14th October 2016, Nowergian Black Metal veterans and pioneers Darkthrone will release their new full-length record ‘Arctic Thunder’. It is the follow-up to 2013’s ‘The Underground Resistance’. Having only two constant members, Gylve Fenris ‘Fenriz’ Nagell (born 1971, most of all known as the band’s drummer)  and Ted ‘Nocturno Culto’ Skjellum (born 1972, most of all acting as the group’s vocalist and lead guitarist), the band is considered to be one of the pioneering und most important acts of early 1990s’ Norwergian, then European and global Black Metal music and culture.1

Their early albums, such as ‘Panzerfaust’ (1995) or ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ (1994), clearly made references to fascist, Nazist and racist  ideologies. Still, there is a lot of dispute and discussion if this is to be seen as ‘provocation’ or as ‘authentic’ political statements. The latter album even had printed ‘Norsk Arisk Black Metal’ (‘Norwegian Aryan Black Metal’) on it. So, from my point of view, this aspect of the band’s cultural history is to be seen more than critically; it has to be rejected. In Black Metal discourse, as an artistic and ‘rebellious’, therefore, emancipative discourse, there can be no discursive space for racism.

This said, there is a an aspect in the band’s  cultural history of identity, taking a very clear form in the aesthetics of ‘Arctic Thunder’ (at this time, the promotional release of the album is available already). Darkthrone started out as a Death Metal outfit in 1986, turning to Black Metal aesthetics in 1991. The ‘blackish’ design of the band’s identity, claiming it to be a ‘true’ Black Metal group, was kept up to around the year of 2005; with the album ‘The Cult Is Alive’ (2006), the two artitsts decided to incorporate Punk, Rock and Classic Metal elements into their music. They became a ‘Black’n’Roll’-band which they can be seen to still be in 2016.

Yet, reflecting on the band’s history of identity, a ‘micro-macro-history’ of their cultural identity from 1986 until today, focusing on the ‘microscopic’ topic of the band’s identitary aesthetics, the new album is – in a certain way – an extraordinary one. The music heard on the record seems to be a progression of what the band is doing but the overall aesthetics hark back to the band’s classical black metal phase from 1991 to 1995. This is the record’s cover:

index2

This cover’s features are, in a cultural ‘micro-macro’ perspective of the band’s history of identity, very interesting – and, special. The cover shows dark woods, fire (I guess, a campfire), the band’s logo and the record’s title. This is a very straight codification of early 1990’s Black Metal aesthetics: the topics and metaphors of fire and woods have become standout topics of Black Metal in its cultural orthodoxy. But, when looking back at the band’s classical records from 1991 to 1995, they all had a black and white outfit. So, what is, in a certain way, the key move on ‘Arctic Thunder’ is to use a orthodox, very traditional and classical black metal identity but to paint it colourfully.

This move can be seen in both ways, literally and metaphorically: literally the band follows, now, a more colourful approach in their aesthetics of identity. Metaphorically, and this is from the mentioned ‘micro-macro’ perspective of history the more interesting one, the band breaks classical Black Metal monochromy and re-composes it in colour. Black Metal is – self-conciously, and, somehow, courageously – hybridized with Rock’n’Roll. The band did so since ten years but, in 2016, they start to do it more explicitly. So, from this allegorical perspective, we can see a new era beginning in the group’s cultural history of identity. In 2016, the band plays ‘colourful Black Metal’.

So, reflecting on it in a broad cultural historical perspective, this is a tempting move. In 1966, exactly fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones wanted to ‘paint it black‘, releasing a single of this title. In 2016, the seemingly most extreme one of popular music cultures, Black Metal, at least one of their key-players, wants to ‘paint it colourfully‘. I am eager to see and listen what kind of broader trends in cultural history this can be seen to represent metaphorically.


  1. For Black Metal and Extreme Metal cultural history, cf. Keith Kahn-Harris: Extreme Metal. Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford 2007; Dayal Patterson: Black Metal. Evolution of the Cult. New York 2013; also, cf. idem: Black Metal. Prelude to the Cult.  N.p. 2013; idem: Black Metal. The Cult Never Dies. N.p. 2015; idem: Black Metal. Into the Abyss. N.p. 2016. 

  2. Source: http://www.nuclearblast.de/static/articles/253/253324-1.jpg/1000×1000.jpg, retrieved 12/10/2016. 

‘European Solidarity’, the ‘European Soul’ and the Metal Music Community as a Cultural Community of Solidaritiy – Are There any Connections?

Nine days ago, on the day of the ‘Brexit’-votum in Great Britain, I took part in a scientific conference dealing with the ‘notorious’ topic of “European Solidarity”: there, we discussed the question wether European solidarity is to be seen, historically, as ‘the bonds that unite’ Europe. Doing so, on the day of the success of the ‘Leave’-campaign in Great Britain, made me feel a bit like being trapped in a mental state of British black humour – we discussed European solidarity while one of the biggest EU member countries voted to turn its back on European solidayrity.

This was not only a case of cultural cynism but of an overall trend in global and EU political discourse where emotional arguments and strategies  had been successfully employed to reach certain nationalist and authoritarian political aims. The ‘Leave’-campaign used the fears of a split society (‘older vs. younger’; ‘educated vs. less educated’; ‘rural vs. urban’; ‘poor vs. “rich’) to pursue its nationalist and populist agenda. To vote “Leave”  in Britain on 24th June, had its politico-cultural counterpart in the success in elections of Austria’s FPÖ, of France’s Front national, of the AfD in Germany, etc. All these “movements” and their discourses clinge to a global trend of leaving behind ‘Western’ liberalism and its culture of pluralism and anti-authoritanism. In fact, theses discourses and their anti-European stance of political speech are the form authoritanism takes in the middle of 2016.

However, this is not the authoritanism we know from theinterwar-period of the 1920s and 1930s. It is a new kind of authoritarian discourse which stems from a lack of visibility of meaning and representation in the global post-1989 world; most of all since the ‘Digital Revolution’ made the ‘Global village’, predicted by Marshall McLuhan, had become reality. We live under the auspices of a permanent cultural stress and tension, a digital fog of information which makes our identities become blurred, when there seems to be lrgz no boundaries of space and time. In this cultural condition, solidarity – European solidarity – has become an almost impossible norm: Whom in Europe (or our local and regional neighbourhood) should we feel solidarity for if societies and groups of the USA, of Asia, of Africa and other parts of the world seem, in the digital context, to be much closer, or, at least, as close as Europeans themselves? This lack of the visibility of cultural solidarity in Europe, because of our today’s world cultural structures, is the root of the new authoritanism: its discourse of nationalism and protectionism seems to create a sphere where solidarity remains alive – yet, this is an illusion.

Hence, in 2016 and beyond, we need new cultural discourses enabling us to build bonds of solidarity in Europe and the European Union, in a digitally and economically, and socially globalized world. We need to find new elements of community, cultural artefacts of solidarity that remain visible even if Chinese and Japanese, or Brasilian and American people seem to be much closer to our lives in popular culture than our European neighbours. This has to be a new kind of ‘imagined community’.1 We have to find a new kind of collective imagination of our European identity and ‘European soul’ that matches this new cultural condition.2

This is where the global imagined community of Metal Music, as a global discourse of popular culture, economy and leisure comes in. In the global Metal Music community there is a kind of solidarity that remains alive in times of globalization and its phenomena of the dissapearing of boundaries of spatial and temporal imagination. Actually, just because of the fact that today, in a world of global-wide communication where the solidarity of the Metal Music community can be established in a timeframe of seconds (and where local contexts depend from its overall global level of imagination), this imagined community found its structure as a growing and established field of cultural practice.3

That Metal Music has progressed to mainstream and has become a global and European subject of an own branch of scientific discourse, Metal Music Studies, forms this development’s climax; it means that in Metal Music solidarity of all ‘Metalheads’ around the world can be imagined because global cultural infrastructure of communication and information have formed a tool-like discourse of collective imagination which allowed this development to become historical reality.4 In a nutshell, Metal Music discourse made appear a global community of solidarity whose identy stems from its ability to remain visible in our times of globalized blur of cultural realities of belonging.

Hence, what we have to ask for is, how this remains possible in times of crisis, looking for a structure of cultural discourse in Metal Music which we could learn  from something for European integration history. The answer to this question lies in the fact that Metal Music discource has become a field of social practice in which the global framework of the identy of being a ‘Metalhead’ and their local roots of belonging form a liquid and hybrid form of coherence.5 It creates solidartiy because globalization and localization work in parallel tracks, they build on synergies. Here, solidarity is a form of coherence in which an African ‘Metalhead’ feels solidarity for American and European fellow-fans of Metal Music and, at once, remain attached to his regional and local cultural.6 This form of coherence is to be sought for in discourses of European solidarity. In a nutshell, agents of European solidarity coult take a glimpse at and learn its lesson lesson from the establishment of the solidarity in Metal Music and its global way of collective imagination. Maybe,  as Europeans and EU Europeans, we should look for the Metalhead woven into our collective European soul.


  1. cf. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso 2006. 

  2. For a recent narrative on this, cf.  Pichler, Peter. 2016. EUropa. Was die Europäischen Union ist, was sie nicht ist und was sie einmal werden könnte. Graz: Leykam. 

  3. Cf. Deena Weinstein. 2015. Rock’n America. A Social and Cultural History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press;and Andy R. Brown e.a, eds. 2016. Global Metal Music and Culture: Current Directions in Metal Studies. London: Routledge. 

  4. cf. ibid. 

  5. cf. ibid. 

  6. Cf. ibid.