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Art Zoyd - Häxan  CD (album) cover

HÄXAN

Art Zoyd

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.67 | 28 ratings

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Guldbamsen
Forum & Site Admin Group
Site and Forum Admin
5 stars Looking down the anthill

This is the soundtrack for the Danish/Swedish art movie Häxan(The Witch) from 1921. Director Benjamin Christensen created an ironic piece of cinema based on his own interpretations of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) that all through the middle ages was used as irrefutable proof of the inner witch in women who were unwanted, strange, self-thinking or dangerous - often sentencing them to an early death at the end of a rope (The huge bonfires with burning women is a misconception that still prevails though, but in reality it was very few unfortunate souls that ended up as fiery embers on the stake). Christensen's point was however, that most of the women rendered as witches actually suffered from mental illness. Misconception and superstition leading to fear and pushing society to deal with the stuff we are afraid to face.

So how on earth did Art Zoyd end up making music for an art movie made some 50 years earlier? It was actually commissioned by the city of Copenhagen, back when they were awarded with the honour of being the cultural capital of Europe 1996. This then came out the year after.

I purposely choose to offer up this information at the start of this review, because I feel it has everything to do with the actual music. For my tastes, Art Zoyd have here created an unparalleled piece of music that compliments the sombre and dark universe of Häxan uncannily well. There is a sense of the melodramatic in this album that takes on new meaning. A bitter-sweet touch of sadness that rivals an abandoned dog's yearning cries.

Firstly, Art Zoyd seem to have gone back in time for their inspiration for this work. The cold metronomic electronics mirror the ones they did for their two 1980s releases Berlin and Le Marriage du Ciel et de L'Enfer. Myriads of emerging beats swarming around - creating a startling effect much like looking down into a metallic anthill. The opening beast of a track that lasts 30 minutes should illustrate this chilling and seductive effect. The genius part of the equation though, is the manner in which all these drumming metronomic beats start interweaving with each other: the background suddenly appears in small shimmers of sound, and you get soothing breaths of string instruments passing by you like a swift encounter with a delirious and beautiful death.

Secondly, the inexplicable tension that this group somehow is able to wield is downright spooky. What I mean by tension is the way these musical surfaces stretch out for long periods of time before changing pitch or path. Just like the aforementioned electronic albums from the 80s, there's a similar usage of tension on here - an awaiting future release. The way these pieces build up is perhaps the direct opposite of how most post-rock bands work, yet they still wield that same sense of feeding off the cataclysmic turnovers within the music. With Art Zoyd it just feels like a rubber-band being stretched to the end of infinity and beyond, and then, only then the great big man with the scissors cuts through the umbilical chord - and the sounds evolve, change, transform like a musical version of bloom.

Binding everything together you get angular orchestrated reed sections, cartoonish madman runnings, odd fat man vocalisations, industrial blacksmith hammerings - keeping the beat - like a startled guillotine, and then enveloping all of this a certain stealth vibe about the whole thing - feeling like the music only resides in shadow, creeping up on you like a fragmented whisper.

This is what Art Zoyd is all about. A subtle understated- yet brutal force of music that literally sweeps over you like unexpected gusts of wind. Melodies are second-hand, and at times they just feel like debris or leftovers from the deep entrancing atmospheres - taking you by the hand with the frostbitten force of a small iceberg. That opening cut for example has next to nothing resembling 'melodies' - yet somehow the running time of half an hour feels like a flash. You get lured into black holes, dark brooding forests - an abyss of sound that surely speaks about the fearful images of Benjamin Christensen's cinematic tale of woe. Imagining the middle ages with all that entails - emphasising the overtly superstitious, - the menacing and unfriendly surface of this album suddenly starts making sense. Turn up the volume, turn off the light and let your mind drown out everything but the small ant army of beats and dramatic sways of string accompaniment. A world of images emerges. An inner movie appearing like flickering lights in snow, and then, hopefully, these once senseless and inhuman wrongdoings may finally incinerate before your eyes in a cathartic swoop of sound.

Guldbamsen | 5/5 |

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