In general, I approach Iceland Airwaves with the sort of devil-may-care attitude of someone who is just in it for the ride, meaning that I don’t really believe in making plans to see this band or that act. I prefer to wing it, being swayed at every instant by the mood, the crowd, and the always present buzz. Going into this year’s Airwaves festival, Anna Von Hausswolff was on a very selective list of acts I had every intention of seeing during the festival. And as luck would have it, I did, and I am all the more glad for it.
Anna Von Hausswolff (I think I’ll just stick to Anna from now on, I am on a deadline, after all) first caught my attention with her debut album, Singing From the Grave, in particular the excellent Track of Time. That particular album saw a version of Anna that no longer exists, really. A tender and intimate vocalist, lending her voice to delicate piano melodies, not far removed from the current offering of Swedish female artist of the indie-pop genre.
Her latest album thought, 2012’s Ceremony, is an animal of a different kind, entirely. It is dark and moody, filled with long and intense compositions that effortlessly blend her current weapon of choice, an organ rather than a piano, and a voice that sounds like it has been raised by an octave or two since her last outing. Anna has said in an interview that this transformation was in part inspired by bouts with drone-metal, a genre she only came to know when her mp3 player was stolen two years ago, and a friend filled up a new one for her. Such are the surprises life throws at us.
Gamla Bíó is a beautiful old theatre, and as such, absolutely perfect for the night’s proceedings. The venue was absolutely packed, with people sitting everywhere, on the floor and the upstairs balcony. The intimacy was fitting, as Anna entered stage left, and went on to create an deeply intense atmosphere, which, underscored by the powerful organ sounds, was in many ways more akin to a religious experience than a concert, which may actually be what she is going for, considering the title of her latest album. During her set, she relays a short anecdote to the audience. This being Halloween, she says someone approached her just before the concert to comment on how good she looked in that witch’s costume, which of course turned out to be her regular attire. It is a nice little anecdote, and perfectly apt for the occasion.
The atmosphere, the intimacy and the haunting elements of Anna’s voice invoked The North, in capital letters, icy landscapes, Nordic crime drama, isolation, winter depression and all the clichéic notions you probably already have for this part of the world. It is the sort of music that would have scored Nosferatu, if it were made today. She played most of 2012’s Ceremony, including a chilling performance of Liturgy of Light. It is not a radio friendly unit shifter by any means. But it is gripping. And it will likely stay with you for a long time if you open up to it.