Review by Giuseppe Pisano
Co-operator in the tape label XKatedral and part of the Sthlm Drone Society, an association whose mission is to encourage and promote slow textural music, Maria W Horn quickly rose to be one of the most prominent names in the Swedish drone music scene. The first track of Kontrapoetik, Atropa, starts with a bell: a clear reference to the church, and the life routine of a rural community devoted to handwork and tradition. But this bell has something twisted, a wicked ring to it. Its long lasting resonances, its wailing trail leave us with the feeling that there must be much more hidden behind the tranquillity of nature, and violently unveils its dualism, the hidden horrors and savage laws of the conservative patriarchal farming society.
Ångermanland, the region where the artist is born and raised and to which the whole album is referred, was in 1674 the scenario of Sweden’s largest documented execution of women accused of witchcraft. All beheaded or burnt at the stake. Investigation, both in the personal life of the author and in that region’s turmoiled past, is indeed one of the key elements of this work, and it becomes, for us listeners, a necessary path to better appreciate this record. Once we get confident with the setting, we can really feel how every single sound of the album was crafted to transmit a sense of ambiguity, being altogether shimmery and dark, round and deeply hollow.
The contradictory realm described by Maria W Horn fits very well into a tradition of Scandinavian artists questioning the perfection and paradoxes of their homeland society (In my mind the reference to Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten was too strong not to be mentioned). A big part of Kontrapoetik deals with the idea of finding opposite perspectives. So we experience how the same church bell sound is now marking the rhythm of dark satanic rituals, becoming proper acts of revolution against the society’s facade. The use of heavily processed soundscapes together with long textural sounds of elusive origin create an anxious atmosphere. This is an atmosphere of stagnation, carried out by the harmonic progressions that solemnly appear, leaving us no doubt about some of the track being originally composed specifically for the ceremonial practices of Horn’s feminist sect. The aim was to develop counter-myths and re-conceptualize Lucifer as a liberator of the womankind.
The composer’s pace, unwinding the threads of her scenes, is slow and largely descriptive, covering vast areas of musical expression with well-defined gestures being together clear and complex, further proving a certain reductionist attitude despite the colossal mass of sound. XKatedral has so far fed us with high quality, fine textured music works and this album is definitely keeping the banner high. A small dark ambient “how to” not to be taken for granted. Released on October 19.