Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic (Review)

Dead Magic

Composer, singer, songwriter and organist Anna von Hausswolff is one of those music talents who would deserve to be recognized by music critics as one of the great artists of her generation, with the same admiration they have for Björk or Massive Attack, but despite her top five position in her home country Sweden, she’s still to be discovered on a worldwide scale. She’ll never break into mainstream, she’s too far away from any conventional structures of motifs, but once artists will start to reference her work as inspiration, she’ll have her share of recognition. She just has to.

When looking at the tracklist of her newest effort Dead Magic, you might at first think you got an EP in your hands, as with five tracks, you’d expect a rather short record whose price is far too high for what it actually delivers. However, at 47 minutes of duration, it is actually far into legit album length. This is due to the fact that two of the album’s songs surpass the 10 minute mark by far, at 12 and 16 minutes respectively. Despite the intense length, you’d barely notice as time flies by on this odyssey of notes, as the music constantly shifts and blends into new facettes and influences. The transition from dark soundscapes to medieval church chants to a lush folk composition to an emotive, sentimental score is so fluent and hypnotizing that you get immediately caught up in the moment.

Speaking of scores, several moments on Dead Magic actually have the feeling of a movie soundtrack to them. Not one of the main themes that stick in your head and get referenced in paridies, but those quieter, atmospheric pieces that ACTUALLY set the tone but rarely get the recognition of the leitmotif. And in a way, it’s the same deal with von Hausswolff’s music. It’s those instrumental 2 and a half minutes at the beginning of The Truth, The Glow, The Fall that develop from sinister soundscapes to a musical melody that create the mood the entire track is built on, but what the average listener will remember is what happens once she starts singing. But the album puts just as much focus on the music than on the vocals - after all, von Hausswolff is not solely a singer. The instrumental song The Marble Eye is a masterpiece of composing craft, leaving the spotlight to the powerful organ that plays the most enchanting melody performed on this instrument since Phillip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, Källans Återuppståndelse musically captures the freezing atmosphere of icy winter landscapes and on the epic Ugly and Vengeful her voice and the haunting, demonic organ build one strong, captivating unit.

But the track that really stands out is The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra, which is the only song that got itself a music video. It’s rough, gothic, gritty and straightforward. It’s when the elegant composer turns into an independent rocker with the force PJ Harvey had in her best days. Her voice shrieks, cries, whimpers, hysterically laughs, and impulsively yells: “Who is she!? Who is she, who is she, who is she to say goodbye!?”. Despite the extreme fire she spits on the track, and the dominance of drums and guitar, its pace and mood fits perfectly into the context of the entire album. It’s hard to explain, but as different as it sounds individually, as homogenous it is combined with the other 4 symphonies.