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HÄXAN

Art Zoyd

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Logan
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5 stars Art Zoyd's Haxan has been one of my favourite albums of the 90s, by what may be my favourite band In Prog Archives, for years because the patterns that Art Zoyd weaves best fit my 'neuralities' and neuroses. In some ways I see Art Zoyd as antithetical to the Prog aesthetic set by the likes of ELP. If Art Zoyd is Prog (genre) rather than simply progressive rock (and rock related), then it is Prog in Opposition -- Art Zoyd makes art music, but not I would think very inaccessible music. Haxan is melodic. To me it sounds much more natural and organic than a ton of music in the Prog universe. It's not really weird, but it is wonderful.

They paint a picture with their textures. It is band of contrasts, and Haxan presents lows and highs. It can be mesmerising and hypnotic, but depending on the listener's state of mind, it could also be largely irritating and boring.

First off, some background info: HÃxan was commissioned by the city of KøBenhavn as a soundtrack for the 1921 Benjamin Christensen directed film "Haxan" (Witchcraft Through the Ages). Art Zoyd has hardly been a stranger to making soundtracks to silent films, and have written ballet music.

I don't think many would appreciate its mostly cold, quite ambient -- although atmospheric is the better term for it --, quite repetitive (like me), and long nature (also like me). It also has what I would consider something of the same 80s aesthetic we see in other Art Zoyd albums such as Le Mariage du Ciel et de l'Enfer This is not 'on the whole "action music". To draw a film analogy, this being a soundtrack, this is much more Art House Cinema than Hollywood Blockbuster, which is not stating that it's high art -- for high art look to stoner music.

If you're looking for arena rock, blistering guitar solos, and plenty of head-bang for your buck, look elsewhere. If you want rather contemplative, atmospheric, and rather paranoid texture-weaving, then this might be for you, but it would require a lot of patience for most to appreciate. And if you're thinking this is going to be a really creepy album considering the subject matter, well no. It is actually quite light listening on the whole.

This album is also notable as Thierry Zaboitzeff's final Art Zoyd album, and I believe that all pieces save the first track were composed by him.

This is silly breaking down the tracks, but I'm going to do it anyway, especially since a warning is in order..

The first track, "Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir (extraits)", composed by Gerard Hourbette is long and frigid, and many would find it very tedious on the whole. I find that it presents a brilliant atmosphere, and is highly nuanced. The music does build in unusual ways even if it may sound rather static at times to some.

"Nuit"" has light opera moments and can be a very upbeat piece. It's quite humorous (rather recalls Beethoven's 9th to me in part), and I might call it fun and lively with sombre moments. Delightful.

With the "Haxan Phi" titled pieces we move into somewhat darker territory, but the music picks up pace. "Haxan Xi" is sombre and contemplative. "HÃxan Psi" is quite wonderful, sombre, with bartone? operatic vocals. I tend to turn up the volume when listening to it, which can be dangerous because the next track kicks in loud.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, my ears!

"Epreuves d'Acier" is the track i would be most likely to suggest to a typical Prog fan, and it is really loud if you don't use volume control compared to the last track. I think it may be one of those wake-up intros that some classical composers would throw in to startle the audience who were getting a little sleepy and unfocused. Fantastic track -- lots of contrast, and plenty of mood. If I gave someone an Art Zoyd compilation, this would be on it.

"Marche" is very beautiful and very sad. Such a poignant track (short and bitter-sweet). It has the sound of sobs in it, and I'm feeling depressed, somehow it makes me feel more satisfyingly sombre. Some might complain about an album that ends more with a whimper rather than a bang, but of course not only is this album's music following the story of the film somewhat -- I have seen the film, but not for many years and not with an Art Zoyd soundtrack -- but it does make the whole experience more poignant for me.

This is an album full of nuances, but it really is quite simple at its core. It does not really have complex harmonies, nor does it have, thank God, instrumental showmanship. Art Zoyd is known as a chamber rock band, but it wasn't long before they used plenty of electronics, and they rarely had the instrumental harmonics that go into chamber music arrangement.

It is background music for a film, and should not distract over-much from that, but also stands alone beautifully and there is depth to the music, and enough contrast to keep many non-ADD listeners interested. My suggestion for the Art Zoyd neophytes is to let the music wash over you as background music at first, then return to it later with your listening ears on.

The only album from the 90s that has got as much play from me as HÃxan is the equally magnificent Faust by Art Zoyd. I feel like saying that this is music that fits the patterns of my slightly deranged mind, but the patterns are not deranged. It's very orderly and logical even if it at times it has a somewhat fragmented feel. That said, music that sounds natural to me may sound unnatural to another (ears need to be attuned to music and this, for most, would be an acquired taste, for me Art Zoyd was love at first listen), nor am I really competent in describing music since I have a disorderly mind, so buyer beware, unless you are a fairly sombre hombre.

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Send comments to Logan (BETA) | Report this review (#419659)
Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
Guldbamsen
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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.

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Send comments to Guldbamsen (BETA) | Report this review (#808613)
Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2012 | Review Permalink

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