Anna von Hausswolff Ceremony – Album Review

Following a European tour with Efterklang and sell out show at Village Underground, the mysterious Swede (daughter of the controversial CM von Hausswolff) presents her first LP release outside of her home country. Anna von Hausswolff released her new album Ceremony just over a week ago and it’s now available to stream in full online here. It’s a record whose power lies within the naturally flowing yet unmistakable pristine and precise arrangements carried out by a mighty church organ.

Though she now lives in Copenhagen, she grew up in the once vibrant, bohemian neighbourhood of Haga in Gothenburg, Sweden, to a family who counted amongst their ancestors Bernhard Reynold von Hausswolff, an 18th Century governor of Falun, Sweden, who helped bring an end to the burning of witches. Her father, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, is a composer and visual artist who’s also co-monarch of the kingdoms of Elgaland-Vagaland, so it’s perhaps not surprising that she’s chosen to pursue a radical direction with her music.

Anna von Hausswolf said: “I didn’t just want Ceremony to be a collection of songs. I wanted it to be like a film with every single part connected to the other, with shifting moods and settings, but a thread holding all the tracks together. I listen to a lot of film scores and in many the music is able to move freely without the typical structures that we find in commercial music.”

Arguably Ceremony’s most significant ingredient is the church organ of Gothenburg’s vast Annedalkyrkan whose pipes are featured on the album’s striking cover. Employed on nine of the album’s thirteen tracks, it also provided von Hausswolff with the excuse to record for five days in the century old building, its cavernous space adding to the record’s formidable magnitude.

Anna Von Hausswolf

Anna Von Hausswolf

She found in the organ’s sound a link between her own writing and a developing obsession with ‘drone metal’, allowing her to add layers of thick textures to the songs. But – thanks to its inevitable associations with existence and mortality – the organ also suited the themes that lay at the heart of the record which von Hausswolff defines as: “…nature and death, or the division of humanity and nature. From the moment we exit the womb, we start our paths towards materialism and destructive behaviour and these days I feel that the gap between nature and human is growing bigger. I wanted to grasp my inner nature and be unified with nature again. Ceremony is a celebration of life and everything that it contains, especially death, because in death we will be truly one with nature again.”

Ceremony is an album that’s dark, haunting and mesmerising. It’s an atmospheric album with Kate Bush inspired vocals. Introductory track Epitaph of Theodor is a dramatic song filled with the haunting sound of the organ that helps to create an unnerving feeling in the listener. It’s a brilliant beginning track that sets the scene for the rest of the record.

Deathbed is the second track on Ceremony. Anna von Hausswolff has recently released the video for Deathbed which can be watched below. The suitably catatonic video, created by Anna von Hausswolff’s sister, accompanies the 9-minute track that is Deathbed which demands you hang on all the way to the end for a spectacular finish. Half way through Deathbed, Anna von Hausswolff’s awe inspiring high pitched vocals burst in after the theatrical, if long, introduction.

Red Sun is another favourite on the album. The beginning has a meditative sound to it while von Hausswolff’s vocals set in and create another atmospheric track. Her vocals are soft and enchanting to start with but towards the end of Red Sun, her passion breaks through introducing the beloved sound of those high pitched notes. Anna von Hausswolff really does have one of the most unique voices around.

However Ceremony isn’t just a bleak record which is something highlighted by the extraordinary Harmonica – one of the best and most uplifting tracks on the record. Von Hausswolff said: “It’s a song I wrote just after my grandfather passed away. It’s about how culture and traditions can travel from generation down to generation, and in this case from him to me by music. Just before he died, he gave me a harmonica and he told me to practise hard and only write about things that are relevant to me. His deathbed inspired me to make Ceremony.” Harmonica is a track which encompasses world influences including African rhythms and drums. Harmonica definitely has a supernatural feel to it. The beginning of Harmonica introduces a gentler side to von Hausswolff’s music. The track gently builds so all the different layers and sounds can be heard. To start with there are synth noises, hand clapping and von Hausswolff’s vocals then gradually the African drumming comes in alongside the other drums and guitar and you are left with a superb song. It’s a beautiful piece of work that exposes true emotion.

The last track that leaves an impression on you is Ocean. It begins with a piano playing a beautiful composition with strong classical influences. It’s the sort of music you expect to hear on a meditation CD. Again, it’s another song that shows how good a singer and composer Anna von Hausswolff is. The song title Ocean and the atmosphere created by the track does in fact make you feel relaxed and free as if sailing on the ocean. Not many songs can transport you to this sort of place but von Hausswolff definitely succeeds.

Ceremony is a wonderful album that is hard to place into a genre. There’s emotion, unbelievable compositions and a great atmosphere which will make you fall instantly in love with Anna von Hausswolff’s talent, if not her music. Ceremony is out now through City Slang.

See Anna von Hausswolff live:

August
10 Haldern DE – Haldern Pop Festival
18 Breacon Beacons UK – Green Man Festival
25 Amsterdam NL – Grachten Festival
31 Dorset UK – End Of The Road Festival
September
21 Brussels BE – Amerikaans Theater (+ Wire Mum & Wolf Eyes)
27 Hamburg DE – Reeperbahnfestival
October
03 Heidelberg DE – Enjoy Jazz Festival
04 Basel CH – Paterre
12 Graz AT – Steirischer Herbst Festival
30 Reykjavik IS – Airwaves Festival

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