Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic
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Swedish singer, composer, and organist Anna Von Hausswolff delivered The Miraculous in 2015, an exercise that moved from the Gothic pop of her earlier records towards blackened folk-metal and post-rock via a 9,000-pipe Acusticum Organ.
Dead Magic was recorded in nine days with her band, strings (arranged by Ulfur Hansson) and producer Randall Dunn. Her instrument of choice was a 20th century pipe organ in Marmor Kirken, Copenhagen's "Marble Church." This date contains only five tracks -- though two are well over ten-minutes long. Von Hausswolff was cryptic about the set's inspirations, introducing it with a quote from the late Swedish poet Walter Ljungquist: "Take the fate of a human being, a thin pathetic line that contours and encircles an infinite and unknown silence. It is in this very silence, in an only imagined and unknown centre, that legends are born. Alas! That is why there are no legends in our time. Our time is a time deprived of silence and secrets; in their absence no legends can grow."
The set's opening track, "The Truth, The Glow, The Fall" is over 12 minutes; it illustrates the quote's premise in the droning pulse of the morgan, synth, strings, and drums. Von Hausswolff uses the organ's pedals and whirling pipes to set the pace, allowing her remarkable voice to equate the passionate futility of the human condition with the stark savagery of nature. Layers of chords and tender violins add overtone drones to the melody, as music spirals and gradually unwinds amid an echoing sonic din. Single "The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra" initially sounds inspired by folk-metal, with Earth-esque guitars, rumbling, dirgey tom-toms, and layers of natural reverb, but Von Hausswolff wails like a maniacal blues singer (think Diamanda Galas' solo vocal and piano outings) over a hypnotic, menacing vamp, eventually digging inside herself to project passionate shrieks and growls that add immense emotional impact. The album's hinge is the nearly 17-minute "Ugly and Vengeful." Slow, simmering organ drones, guitar chords, wordless, and bittersweet chanted vocals offer an intro worthy of Dreyfuss' Nosferatu, as siren-like peals, shimmering dark cymbals, and dour chords carry over. When Von Hausswolff starts singing, her multi-tracked vocals offer monotonal whispers that introduce the rest of the drum kit, the organ's full droning power, and ultimately crashing power guitar chords. She eventually soars above them, adding drama, pain, and a haunted, hunted spirituality. The pace picks up in the final third with distorted guitars, pummeling kick drums, and masterful, angular organ arpeggios cascading and swirling through the middle. Closer "Källans Återuppståndelse" commences as an instrumental ballad before her aching vocal and violins cut through the organ-blasted soundscape. She offers a different glimpse of the unspeakable, the unknowable, before it and Dead Magic dissolve into silence. As promising as Von Hausswolff's earlier records are, this one towers over them and above it in terms of musical imagination and emotional impact. It's not an easy or gentle listen, but it is unforgettable and constantly rewarding.