The last two albums by Swedish singer and organist Anna von Hausswolff have established her as a singularly powerful musician and performer, speaking of epitaphs, funerals, liturgies and all things dark and heavy-hearted. For all the religious symbolism they also contained their fair share of corporeal, natural references, suggesting maybe she wasn’t as easy to label as initially thought.
Latest album Dead Magic may be shorter in terms of tracks than Ceremony or The Miraculous (there’s only five of them) but she arguably packs more into these than ever before. It proves she still makes music that is raw, ultra-gothic and full of fearsome, pitch-black unleashings, so much so that one popular media player places it in that classic category of ‘funeral pop’.
The only way she chose to elaborate on the album ahead of release was to quote a poem from Swedish writer Walter Ljungquist, a suitably elusive and enigmatic move but one that also makes sense in the context of the album and things she finds important. She doesn’t so much shine a light on the darkened corners of the human psyche but rather does everything she can to make them even more opaque, mysterious and impenetrable.
The Truth, The Glow, The Fall is a searching opener, revealing its nocturnal treasures over 12 minutes. As it progresses she becomes increasingly in thrall to darker forces and is eventually overcome by them, guttural groans seeing the track out. Imagine if Kate Bush had swapped Brontë for Baudelaire and you’re going in the right direction, but still some way off. It’s a gloriously macabre elegy for something we probably will never understand.
The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra begins with some admonishing guitar chords, von Hausswolff sounding like PJ Harvey if she’d just been possessed by a particularly malevolent and unforgiving force. She rages, emitting demonic howls while the music reverberates claustrophobically around her, caving in under the associated pressure. It’s an utterly absorbing listen.
Ugly And Vengeful reaches an epic, clashing peak, multi-chaptered and imperious. Its sheer scale is an engulfing experience as she layers intensity upon intensity. Just as you suspect she has said all she needs to she returns to add more. Afterwards, the instrumental The Marble Eye sees her by necessity take stock and recompose. It’s a welcome pause and shows off another of the album’s strengths, namely in how well it is structured. Källans återuppståndelse (translating as Resurrection Of The Source) appropriately ends matters with rich, heavy organs that are seemingly replete with all the sadness in the world. It acts as a requiem of sorts where she seems to finally find some degree of peace and acceptance.
Dead Magic is a brilliant artistic statement, Anna von Hausswolff’s best self-definition to date. She still finds inspiration in the areas others fear to tread and is able to transform it into compelling pieces of work. It will be fascinating to see how deep and dark she can eventually go.