Album Review: Anna Von Hausswolff – Dead Magic

Not magic, but Dead Magic is what Gothenburg born musician has focused on in her new (fourth) album, out tomorrow (2nd March) via City Slang. The title suggests the paradox chosen by Anna von Hausswolff – opening the doors to disturbance and anxiety,the idea  that somehow things which created such wonder and imagination are dying, failing. Given that, apart from quoting the bleak poem by fellow swede, and writer, Walter Ljungquist she has remained tight-lipped on the circumstances surrounding the albums creation, conjecture and guesswork seem to suggest an uneasy creative outpouring.

Musically, Hausswolff has worked with a producer for the first time on Dead Magic – Randall Dunn, who’s back catalogue is littered with Sunn O))), Boris, Wolves in the Throneroom and the like. He hasn’t reigned in the ambition Hausswolff’s work has often showed, in fact he’s positively encouraged it, with the five tracks on the album taking some 47 minutes. As with its predecessor The Miraculous, she’s used a pipe organ on the recording, the 20th century organ at Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken, “the Marble Church”, one of the largest churches in Scandinavia, with a chapel inspired by the majestic St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Its more circumspect than the last one, but the influence of the organ, and possibly the surroundings  has given many of the tracks, particularly the tracks that bookend the record – the lavish, drawn out opener ‘The Truth, The Glow, The Fall’, and finisher ‘Källans återuppståndelse’, a reverence about them, almost religious in their tone (or at least their outlook). Where they differ though is the former is approaching a Cantata – full of story and journey (without the liturgical text) while the latter has the desperate heartbreak of a (or at least part of) a Mass.

And although the album is shrouded in drones and dischord, some of the music on Dead Magic is the most accessible of her career, as she uses the bleakness of the poem she quotes perhaps as the mood that wraps itself around it. Against it are moments of warmth, long lines of strings, choral voices and simple, possibly angelic, melodic lines. These are to be grasped, as the ugly, cold reality of death is never far away, as witnessed in the menacing, morphing organ lines in the 17 ugly and vengeful.

Dead Magic is a dense and largely dark record, with one foot in an accessible modern classical music, and one in this sort of quasi-religious form that she seems to musically quote from. Underneath it is an affecting, sometimes painful and sometimes angelic record that shows what the sharp focus of Anna von Hausswolff’s ambition can achieve. And that is something thats quite magical.


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