Dungen “Häxan” (2016 Black Friday Record Store Day release)

For the Black Friday Record Store Day in 2016, the Swedish prog-rock band Dungen released an album titled Häxan in both CD and LP formats, with each format limited to 2,000 copies. The LP version was pressed in white vinyl, and came with a digital download card. (The album was released digitally two months later, in January of 2017). Häxan (translation: “The Witch”) is Dungen’s first all-instrumental album, created as a new original music score for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which is believed to be the oldest surviving full-length animated feature film, predating Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by 11 years.

It is fortunate that this 90-year-old silent film has not been lost, because it is fascinating to watch. It was made with silhouette animation using black paper cutout puppets and images, and reportedly took three years to complete. The visually arresting animation tells a fairy tale derived from the Arabian Nights stories, following the adventures of the titular Arabian prince who mounts a flying horse and unwittingly flies off to an enchanted island, where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful princess Peri Banu. He then teams up with Aladdin and the Witch of the Fiery Mountains to battle an evil African sorcerer and an army of demons. The paper cutout images are impressively elaborate, and the animation is riveting.

The Häxan album is a fine art-rock opus on its own, consisting mostly of moody orchestral pieces that befit such an otherworldly fantasy film. It has occasional touches of ambient (“Grottan”) and dissonance (“Wak-Wak’s portar”), and climaxes with the clamorous six-minute hard-rocker “Andarnas Krig”, which ends the album with a burst of Hendrix-like guitar intensity.

So, do the movie and the music work well together? More often than not, they do. (This assumes that I properly synced the movie and the album; the LP played one-and-a-half times during the course of the film’s 65-minute running time). Admittedly, the harder-rocking tracks ("Andarnas Krig", the title track) sometimes seemed too overwrought to match the images onscreen, and some other scenes called for more intense musical accompaniment than they ended up having. But, for the most part, the album and the film combine for a unique and satisfying audio-visual experience, with Dungen’s music adding a modern dimension to a film that some might say is timeless.

Dungen - Häxan

Dungen “Häxan” (Mexican Summer MEX 222) 2016

Track Listing:

1. Peri Banu vid sjön
2. Jakten genom skogen
3. Wak-Wak’s portar
4. Den Fattige Aladdin
5. Trollkarlen och fågeldräkten
6. Grottan
7. Häxan
8. Aladdin’s flykt över havet
9. Kalifen
10. Achmed flyger
11. Aladdin och lampan, del 1
12. Aladdin och lampan, del 2
13. Achmed och Peri Banu
14. Andarnas Krig