Have you ever started listening to something and become so entranced by it that you switch off from everything else? That has been my biggest problem with reviewing the new album from Swede Jonathan Hultén. I’d never heard of Hultén before receiving his album for review. It turns out, though, that his is not a new name in the game, so much as one I’ve merely never come across. Quite possibly because Hultén’s claim to fame is having been an integral part of occult death metal band Tribulation for fifteen years or so – and I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to any occult death metal!
Hultén’s solo work couldn’t be further from death metal, being an acoustic folk style I suspect will be most compared to Nick Drake, and indeed this is a comparison made by Kscope, on which label Chants From Another Place is being released. Closer to home, fellow Swede José Gonzales is another obvious comparison, seemingly calm on the surface, with a driving undercurrent of restrained aggression.
Interestingly, Hultén states that writing acoustically “has been the backbone of everything else I have been doing musically”, and that most Tribulation songs he has written were written acoustically, so there has always been a singer-songwriter hidden underneath the vampiric makeup of the Tribulation guitar player, and I am thankful that Hultén is giving it a voice on this solo album.
Lyrically, there is a sense of fascination and affinity for the dark, the obscure, the macabre and the mysterious – which, though I’m not at all familiar with Tribulation, I assume is another thing Hultén’s writing for both the group and his solo work have in common. If anything, I would guess that thematically and conceptually, in lyrics and instrumentation, the two are merely different faces of the same coin.
If you can imagine Leafblade‘s folk, coupled with Katatonia’s stark Scandinavian acoustic playing, then you will have an idea of the melancholic, Gothic, dark, and haunting music on Chants From Another Place. Hultén often multi-tracks his vocals, harmonising with himself in a fashion that I can’t help comparing to Simon and Garfunkel (I love Simon and Garfunkel, so this is a good thing for me). In fact, due to the minimalist nature of the songs, they are mainly built on vocals (or in the case of Ostbjorka Brudlat, are only vocals). The vocals obviously present the melodies (and those beautiful harmonies) and tend to carry almost all of the weight of the song. Hultén impresses at every turn. He has a distinct and distinctly beautiful voice that beguiles and entrances me.
Interestingly, for all the aforementioned darkness, the artwork is light – as was the artwork for Hultén’s previous EP, Dark Night of the Soul. It’s a pallid light, though, so perhaps the dawn or twilight (after or before that Dark Night). Probably more likely the latter, I guess, as the music strikes me as particularly autumnal. Though heading in the direction of darkness and disquiet it’s still light, and there is a comfort and warmth present. There are also many different colours and shades, with a more varied palette of sounds than one might expect from an album that is predominately voice and guitar.
As for that voice, Hultén proves how versatile it is, sounding quite different between, and even within songs. I love how deep he goes in The Call to Adventure (one of my favourite songs on an album chock full of favourites). On the other hand, Outskirts is a thoroughly delightful instrumental track that forgoes vocals entirely, and instead shows Hultén’s prowess on guitar. However, as nice as it is, it is my least favourite track here. The main attraction of this album is Hultén’s vocals, and I find the lack of them on Outskirts my one quibble. That lack of vocals is highlighted even further by the following track, Holy Woods, where the vocals are wordless but utterly engaging. Then again, I absolutely love The Fleeting World, which also has no vocals, but it is beautifully played on piano.
I’ve found this album the most difficult to review of any I’ve ever attempted, and in a way I think I have still failed to do so. I find myself sounding almost obsequious when it is not at all my intention. However, this is an album I cannot fail to fall into completely. I get lost in the music, and I can honestly not concentrate on writing how I feel about any particular song, because I just want to listen. Without doubt, the chants take me away to another place. This is not background music. This is music to fully immerse oneself in. Consider me immersed.
01. A Dance In The Road (4:18)
02. The Mountain (3:51)
03. Next Big Day (3:09)
04. The Call To Adventure (4:39)
05. Wasteland (3:12)
06. Outskirts (2:27)
07. Holy Woods (2:52)
08. Where Devils Weep (3:19)
09. The Fleeting World (2:43)
10. Ostbjorka Brudlat (3:07)
11. The Roses (4:14)
12. Deep Night (2:50)
Total Time – 40:41
Jonathan Hultén – All Instruments & Vocals
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 13th March 2020