Monday, 17 June 2013

Anna von Hausswolff - Ceremony

Ceremony, a spectacular, triumphant album from Sweden's Anna von Hausswolff, defies description and explanation - although naturally, I'll give it my best effort.

Let's be under no illusions though that this is not a sequence of compositions that's best heard, rather than discussed; so take full advantage of any previews you can get your hands on, or just take the plunge and buy it outright.

If you don't know what to expect of Anna von Hausswolff, then you're in for the greatest treat of all - and you may as well enjoy it, as you'll only get to 'discover' her for the first time once.

Timeless Tracks

Many of the tracks (to describe them simply as 'songs' would be under-selling them) on Ceremony have a timeless feel to them; von Hausswolff describes her favoured instrument, the organ, as an instrument of the Middle Ages, but her music seems substantially less of one 'time', and I suspect will age incredibly well.

To try and set them in terms you may recognise, the vocals - at once haunting and other-worldly, yet imbued with huge amounts of very human sentiment - are perhaps most closely reminiscent of Kate Bush, in the sense that von Hausswolff has a voice of epic majesty, yet uses it as an instrument with effortless control.

Alongside this, you have instrumentals along the lines of those created by Philip Glass for the 1982 documentary film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, now considered a cult classic.

Put them together and it for once feels fair to use the often over-employed word 'epic'; there are few alternative descriptors that accurately capture the magnitude of the music created by von Hausswolff on Ceremony.

Sense of Scale

If Ceremony as a whole carries a sense of epic magnitude, then it is worth recognising that von Hausswolff avoids the common pitfall of trying to make every track into an opera in its own right.

Durations vary - from as little as 2:33 for track 7, 'No Body', to almost nine minutes for track 2, the darkly disturbing 'Deathbed', which you can preview via YouTube below.

While you might imagine there would be pacing problems with such stark variation in the lengths of tracks, in practice no such issues arise; and the full hour-plus playing time of Ceremony stands as an incredibly strong work that is well deserving of whatever praise is heaped upon von Hausswolff.

The Verdict

I am unashamedly a fan of ghostly, gothic, haunting music - which seems all too rare, despite its unparalleled ability to paint a true picture of the beautiful tragedy of life.

Anna von Hausswolff - to whose music I was, prior to this review, a stranger - captures that sentiment with moving perfection; I can only imagine what it must be like to live life with the capacity to create such music of her own free will.

If you buy just one track, make it Liturgy of Light - preview it above and use the iTunes button to download. It's a little different from the rest of Ceremony, and if you're not expecting it, it can really knock you for six when it arrives - more or less at the midpoint of the album as a whole.

But it's a thing of real beauty, and it's nice to have it as proof that von Hausswolff is not a one-trick pony - she is as capable of evoking emotion with a guitar as with the mediaeval sound of the organ; and whichever she uses, the result is something to be treasured.

Final Score: 96%

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