To say that Anna von Hausswolff is a daring, inventive organ player with vocal technique to match is an understatement.
Haunting and ethereal are words that fail to describe the chilling Nordic beauty that is Ceremony. Anna von Hauswolff, a 27-year old native of Gothenburg, Sweden, performs with a depth of feeling and musical empathy. She can create a mood of barren simplicity and then turn around and assail you with a sonic stage that I can only liken to how the Kraken might sound were it on the downstroke of a manic depressive episode.
Although released back in July, there is no better time than now to acquaint yourself with the soaring voice of von Hausswolff. As she embarks on her first American tour (no Canadian dates … yet), and as winter ensnares those of us north of the tropics, Ceremony is the ideal soundtrack to these dark wintry days.
There’s much more of Sinead O’Connor than Enya on this album. Von Hausswolff can unleash a howl of unmitigated torment with effortless ease. She has a voice that reverberates with the strength born of utter pain. And as these songs are said to be in part inspired by the loss of a beloved grandparent, then we know the pain is real.
Musically, there are moments that recall Kate Bush and Dead Can Dance not to mention that other great church organ suite, (HymnSpheres by Keih Jarrett). But there is an overall heavy Prog vibe to Ceremony. A more organic, rich and lustful version of Tangerine Dream, perhaps. Ceremony creaks with the presence of doom, where disquieting passages are countered by scales of feral tenacity. This is not going to lull you into a deep trance; when the music winds up it blusters like a full force gale.
Nothing on Ceremony comes across as forced or heavy handed, but with the deftest and subtlest of touches every note that emerges from beneath von Hausswolff’s fingers, every note from out of her diaphragm, and the enveloping smoke of her accompanists generate what Jasper Fforde might call Big Magic. No other album in recent years has so evocatively cast a spell of dark magic as Ceremony. The tone and timbre is grand, mystical and ominous but it never loses kinetic contact with pure human emotion.
An instrumental, ‘Epitaph of Theodor’, opens the album with a mournful, repetitious passage. The organ keys swell and rise like the twin voices of torture and death. As a table setter it is stark, with only a war-like percussion to augment the barren soundscape. The 12 songs that follow form a unity of sound and mood that may overwhelm the senses even after repeated listens.
When we first hear von Hausswolff’s voice, on ‘Deathbeds’, it is the shocking. The contrast of the face of the young blonde woman with a cragged hackle of a voice, seemingly possessed and malicious, makes one thing patently clear: this is not some New Age meditational malarkey; this is Nordic gospel steeped in the bloody runes of time, the gothic horrors of Black Metal and the all-too-real loss of familial ties. But surprisingly, von Hausswolff’s voice also has the folksy, honeyed aura of EmmyLou Harris. (See ‘Mountains Crave,’ for a taste.)
‘Funeral For My Future Children’ is, honestly, too moving for my paltry words. Moreover, it is even less of a song than an experience. Loss and longing eat apart at the protagonist’s soul but strangely the fires of defiance can be heard.
Ceremony creates a sound palate that evokes a wilderness choked with death and blackness; von Hausswolff rises like some golden-haired Phoenix with a voice of crystal clarity and glacial cool. And though it certainly is far removed from R&B music, there is a throbbing current of blood beneath these tunes. The organ at work here is the heart, pumping feverishly to ward off a pervasive gloom. von Hausswolff invokes darkness to combat darkness. The results are violent, stunning and weighty.
To say that von Hausswolff is a daring, inventive organ player with vocal technique to match is an understatement. She casts spells with both organ and vox, culminating in an emotional torrent that gushes over the listener and takes them deep into the dark heart of the forest beyond the imagination.
WATCH A PERFORMANCE OF ‘FUNERAL FOR MY FUTURE CHILDREN’