Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic (Album Review)


We seem to be living on the cusp of the return of the Avant-garde music scene. Maybe not at the forefront of the mainstream, more in that grey area that gains a certain amount of recognition minus the massive radio airtime. Maybe this apprehensive return has to do with the forty fifth anniversary of The Dark side of the Moon…

Godspeed You! Black Emperor celebrated their tenth birthday by releasing their sixth studio album late last year and now Anna von Hausswolff has released her sixth studio album, Dead Magic.

A concept album based on theme rather than story, Dead Magic opens with the 12 minute plus track ‘The Truth, Glow and the Fall’. Normally you can get a feel for an album’s tone and texture with the first track, but von Hausswolff doesn’t let you do that. You have to listen to it all to get the idea behind it. Mixed with the crackle of fireworks, ‘Truth’ opens with a slooooow tempo that drags a single organ note out, making it a good minute before rhythm and tempo kick in.

Moving from an Adagio tempo to an Andantino one, the lyrics sound like a W.B Yeats poem; Neoplatonism meeting Modernist anxiety creating a mundane magic world trying to hold itself together, building up to a discorded mixture of string instruments before crashing down into funeral march chimes. And that’s just the first track.

‘The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra’ has a guitar and drum beat rhythm with a Marcia-Moderato tempo mixed with an electro-organ, giving the track the feel of a Spaghetti Western opening song. All the while it’s mixed with an arrangement which can only be described as a layer of chaotic oppression, blanketing the whole thing. ‘Ugly and Vengeful’ is slow building, sound effects distorted through an electro-percussion mix, with lyrics that sound like a spell chant, or a lament. It sounds like Phantom of the Opera was written by the Furies.

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This album hits you and hits you hard. The concept then is the idea of magic; powerful and primordial, in a world dying of pollution, war, and the death of the self. It leaves you feeling like you’ve woken from a fever dream, with its hypnotic quality and imagery. This must be the first time I’ve came across an album drenched in Jungian symbolism and meaning. Even bands like Godspeed You! and Popol Vuh never hit it like von Hausswolff has. It’s Magic Realism in musical form; mixed with different styles from Folk Noire to Country Blues.

More and more Avant-garde and the experimental is coming back to the fold but like I said, it’s a cusp, a re-emergence. Not a full blown revolution. You’ll know once a revolution happens when you see a return of the sanctimonious I’ve-heard-of-a-band-you-haven’t-thus-I’m-better-than-you battalions. Before that happens though, buy the album and enjoy a trip you’re rarely likely to experience.

Dead Magic is out now via City Slang.