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Myrkur's Amalie Bruun has spent the early summer deep within an ancient Danish forest — much of that time at an outdoor venue north of Copenhagen, waiting for her cue to rush out and crush through the metal music she was asked to supply to Ragnarök, a stage adaptation of one of Norse mythology's most famous apocalyptic tales.
The open-air performance in Dyrehaven is an elaborate one — its story of love, death and ecological ruin dramatically presented through pyro, sword swinging, high-flying acrobats and heavy music. While Bruun has been the principal force of Myrkur's black-metal-exploring sound since she founded the solo project nearly a decade ago, she's been enjoying the refreshingly communal drive of Ragnarök.
"It's been a humbling experience, because there's like a hundred people involved, and everyone plays a very important part in this to make it work," she says. "I'm so used to everything falling on me. This the opposite."
Bruun was introduced to local theater as a child growing up in Denmark, though the musician admits she was mainly interested in ballet performances at the time. By comparison, the staging of Ragnarök arrives in an interesting period where the brutal foundations of black metal can be woven into high art, here sanctioned by the Royal Danish Theatre.
Bruun's keenly aware of the aesthetic incongruencies. When Bruun was first approached about the project, she assumed the producers were after family-friendly music closer to the opaline acoustic treatments of Myrkur's 2019 full-length Folkesange.
"They told me it was a play based on the Ragnarök myth. I was certain they would ask for Nordic folk music," Bruun recalls about those first meetings with the producers. "I was quite surprised when they were like, 'No, we love your black-metal-inspired music; the dark and cinematic stuff,' like my  album, Mareidt.
"But I constantly had it in mind that there will be children there, and normal people who don't care about metal. So, it has tons of metal in it, but it's also melodic — people like it; they don't think it's too scary."
While Bruun has been reveling in Ragnarök's camaraderie, it wasn't too long ago that she was ruminating on the physical and emotional barriers the pandemic had built between us. Though Bruun notes she's led a reclusive life — she kept her identity hidden in the early days of Myrkur — feelings of isolation intensified in the COVID era, just as she was giving birth to her first child.
This all manifests on Myrkur's new, genre-defying Spine, where Bruun fuses bomb blasts and shrieked vocals with new-age chamber music ("My Blood Is Gold") and four-on-the-floor-driven synth-pop ("Mothlike").
Speaking with Revolver, Bruun reveals how human connection, her son, noble Valkyries, and the rise of artificial intelligence strengthened her Spine.
HOW DO THE THEMES WITHIN THE RAGNARÖK MYTH — THE BATTLE OF THE GODS, ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS, THE APOCALYPSE — SPEAK TO YOU IN MODERN TIMES, FACED WITH THINGS LIKE CLIMATE CHANGE, FOR EXAMPLE?
AMALIE BRUUN Well, the script was written by Kim Fupz Aakeson, who has written a lot of children's books and some pretty successful screenplays. It's in his words; it's obviously based on the Ragnarök myth, but it talks a lot about love, instead of revenge, and what happens when the gods get bored and lazy.
They drink too much, and they get tricked by the enemy [god Loki] because they live this pointless life of debauchery.
But in terms of climate change, it's hard not to think about that when you see more and more natural disasters happening. Everything's burning, or flooding. I think a lot of people do feel that connection [with Ragnarök].
VALKYRIES APPEAR IN RAGNARÖK AND ON SPINE'S "VALKYRIERNES SANG." WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO THE LORE OF THOSE CHARACTERS?
I was reading different interpretations of the old sagas and the old poems, and I just loved the ones about the Valkyries. They're cool mythological characters: Odin's female warriors that ride around finding the fallen ones to say, "You can go to Valhalla… but you can't!" It's inspiring.
WERE YOU WRITING THE MUSIC TO RAGNARÖK AND SPINE SIMULTANEOUSLY?
Believe it or not, I wrote Spine first; I got asked to do Ragnarök after. But I was already working on this concept album that didn't end up happening. I had this idea that I would write a complete album about Norse mythology — not to record it, but to perform live once on a Viking ship.
I started going deep into research and visiting historic places around Denmark from the Viking Age. But then I got asked to do Ragnarök and thought I might use the research for this instead.
WHAT KIND OF SITES WERE YOU VISITING?
Old Viking castles. There's one called Fyrkat, where you can see the graves of the Vølve — they're sort of like Seeresses, [women] said to have the ability to foretell future events and perform sorcery. They're the ones that told the story of Ragnarök. They were believed to speak directly for Odin.
GETTING INTO THE MUSIC ON SPINE, HOW EASY WAS IT FOR YOU TO TAP BACK INTO THE BLACK-METAL SIDE OF YOUR SONGWRITING AFTER HAVING DELIVERED THE MORE MUTED, ACOUSTIC TONES OF FOLKESANGE?
I felt a need to do that, because I hadn't written music in so long. I was stuck. I wasn't going through the easiest time of my life, after becoming a mom. I didn't want to play music. And the worse I felt, the less I'd write music. Actually, my husband said, "Isn't this the time that you should be writing songs?"
I realized I wanted to pick up instruments that created a different type of sound [than what was on Folkesange]. I don't want to make acoustic music right now. Once I did that, I felt a door had opened again. That's what metal does to a lot of people; it's very healing.
IT SEEMS LIKE A SIMPLE, ALMOST IGNORANT WAY TO PHRASE THIS, BUT HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE OF MOTHERHOOD CHANGED YOU?
Besides all the obvious things that everyone would say — like, "Wow, I created life," or "What is this very human but at the same time supernatural process?" — I had to become a new human.
They say you give birth to a new human, but you're also giving birth to [your life as] a mother. I had to start fresh, just like my baby. That was tough! So, that is a part of what this album is about.
The song "Spine" was because I went through one of those sonograms, and I was so worried. Like, "Is everything OK? Is he going to stay in my belly?" Then the midwife said, "There's his spine! Look at how little his spine is!" And [then I realized] I gotta cut myself some slack: I'm growing a spine. Give him a chance. He's forming; he's becoming something here.
YOU BRING UP HUMANITY A FEW TIMES ON THE NEW ALBUM. THE CHORUS TO "LIKE HUMANS," HINGES AROUND THAT LINE, "TALK TO ME LIKE HUMANS DO," AND ON "SPINE" YOU SING, "YOU MAKE ME HUMAN." HOW CONNECTED HAVE YOU FELT TO PEOPLE THESE PAST FEW YEARS?
It's been such a hurricane of emotions. Doing the most natural, human thing possible — making a child, giving birth to it and taking care of it — and then going into the most unnatural period of time that's happened, at least in my lifetime, [with the pandemic] … The world has seemed so disconnected from nature in a way that I didn't think was possible.
I didn't think it could get any worse — between smartphones, artificial intelligence and people already being so disconnected from human nature — but then with the fucking lockdown, everything became about disease … and no human contact.
Going through that was tough, to say the least. I have sometimes had feelings that I didn't belong anywhere, this feeling that a lot of people struggle with. But then when I had my child, I feel like it made me human. I felt so grateful.
WHAT TROUBLES YOU ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?
Nothing in particular … But we know by now that screens, robots and computers — anything that's that disconnected from the lizard brain — aren't good for your mental health.
It's troubling me that it's no longer humans making art, big decisions or even shooting people in wars. The human has been taken away [from many aspects of life]. It's sort of a Planet of the Apes thing that's going on, except the apes weren't really smarter than the humans.
We know AI is going to be a million times smarter than a human brain. I got preoccupied with things like this once I had a child. Now I'm like, "This is what I'm sending him into? How's he going to deal?"
THERE'S AI OUT THERE CREATING DUETS BETWEEN DRAKE AND THE WEEKND; GRIMES IS INVITING PEOPLE TO MAKE SONGS USING AI MODELED AFTER HER VOICE. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK OF SOMEONE MAKING MUSIC SIMILAR TO MYRKUR'S WITH THE DIGITAL ESSENCE OF YOUR VOICE?
I mean, I'm sure it's just a matter of time. Music has increasingly become playlist- and mood-based. More and more, you're being rewarded for sounding like something else, because that is what people go for.
And in a way, we already know Spotify tells artists, "Don't complain about our low streaming revenue, just do more fucking albums." Now we're realizing we can just get AI to [make new music]; they can do what Spotify wants.
Now, to the human ears and hearts: Is [AI-generated music] good enough? Is the Drake AI good enough? And if you can just recreate any current popular artist, was their music ever really good? Or is AI just that [sophisticated]? I don't know…
THE CROSS-POLLINATION OF GENRES YOU'RE BRINGING TO SPINE SEEMS LIKE IT COULD OVERWHELM, OR EVEN CONFUSE, A STREAMING SERVICE'S ALGORITHM.
That's seen as a very negative thing, from most of the music industry's point of view. Exploring experimental, fusion-y stuff's not good for business, because how are you going to sell it? How is it going to sound like anything else that hits the echo chamber? I obviously don't care!
I have nothing to lose, and I have a record label [in Relapse Records] that also doesn't care; they stopped predicting what I'm going to send them. I like that. But at the end of the day, I believe that human beings appreciate [diversity]; and that they like to be challenged. They like that there's a great guitar player playing a solo.
THE TITLE TO SPINE'S FINAL TRACK, "MENNESKEBARN," ROUGHLY TRANSLATES TO "HUMAN CHILD." IS IT A FAIR ASSUMPTION THAT THIS SONG WAS INSPIRED BY YOUR SON?
It's just a lullaby for him. It's so beautiful when you start seeing the world through your child's eyes — it's simple; it's colorful; it's great and inspiring. Everything is new to him, and that gave me such life. These things that we take for granted, they become special again. It's become special for me again.
DO YOU FEEL MORE CONNECTED TO HUMANITY THAN YOU DID AT THE OUTSET OF THIS PROJECT?
Absolutely. I now realize that I have spent most of my life avoiding people. I have spent so much time feeling misunderstood, or just not wanting to interact at all. Other people exhausted the hell out of me. Once I had a child that started to soften up.
I started to realize that not only do I need other humans, but I want other humans [in my life]. I'm seeing what that does to my child, and how much he loves the whole idea of a village.
BRINGING THINGS BACK TO RAGNARÖK, YOU COULD SAY IT'S TAKEN A VILLAGE TO PUT ON THAT KIND OF LARGE-SCALE PERFORMANCE. HOW WOULD YOU THINK THE EXPERIENCE OF THIS PRODUCTION COULD INFLUENCE FUTURE MYRKUR PERFORMANCES?
When I think about [whether] I'm going to tour Spine, I would like to do the opposite. I just want to play with a live band. I'm very into the production, the mystery and the role-playing of black metal, but I just want to turn the lights off and play the album. [Laughs] Like, just put all the energy and focus on the music itself.