What does Jonathan Hultén sound like?
If gothic folk had the voice of Thor and an angel.
The review of Jonathan Hultén – The Forest Sessions
Back in 2021, I discovered the deliciously dark gothic folk of Jonathan Hulten. His album ‘Chants From Another Place‘ felt like a mixture of different time periods of European folk styles mixed together. Fast forward to the end of 2022 and Jonathan returned back to his album to rerecord the tracks in various experimental settings. Accompanying the music is a selection of poems and a music video for each track that works like an audio-visual experience. It sounds like a powerful package but I can only write about the music portion of the release.
Crucially, the music stands up on its own two feet and you don’t even need to know the original album either. ‘The Forest Sessions’ strip back a lot of the overt synth and electronic programming for each song and presents a more acoustic-driven affair. For example, ‘Leaving’ is now a brooding Western folk number with a twang in its step. With an acoustic finger-picked central melody, an electric wane soothes the brooding moments and allows Hultén to shift octaves with expertise and emotion. Indeed, Jonathan’s voice is just as potent this time around as tracks like ‘Holy Woods’ rely on careful melodies that intertwine with faun guitar and bird song. Dualling his clean vocals in curious ways such as the superb ‘The Mountain’ blur the line between voice and synth because they sound so well clustered – he takes on an AI quality. It’s both beautiful and slightly unnerving and that’s one of the reasons I love Hultén’s music.
It isn’t all guitar though, the organ plays a huge role too. Tracks like ‘Wasteland’ are organ driven and provide a more gothic approach over the naturistic vibes of the aforementioned pieces. Tracks like ‘Dance Of The Water Spirits’ merge in airy synths too as if to straddle Enya, Philip Glass and bizarrely Smooth McGroove – the acapella video game music cover artist. The lines between voice and synth are so blurred that they become one. Add in some dramatic timpani drums for added drama and hey presto, you have a classic. Elsewhere we veer towards Nordic new age with the striding electronica of ‘The Call To Adventure’. ‘…And The Pillars Tremble’ is like a Celtic organ and vocal surge that feels freeing and empowering.
Towards the end of the album, instead of having a ‘Forest’ version of a song, there are two ‘Roadburn’ versions instead. ‘The Call To Adventure’ gets an electric guitar dusty Western version, complete with a lone ranger whistle and mellotron backing. To say this sounds totally reworked and different to the Forest version would be an understatement. It’s a testament to Jonathan Hultén that his music sounds uniquely his yet totally different despite being the same song in practice. The closing piece ‘A Dance in the Road’ is a dramatic finale that crosses from that dusty western sound into a pulse-pounding organ, kick drum and vocal climax.
Across the entire album, Jonathan Hulten manages to straddle rich darkness whilst also adding glimpses of light to his melodies. Sometimes it is in his vocal inflection, which has a Celtic and Viking flair and bounce to them. Elsewhere it’ll be in the way the organs pull up the notes or twist from a minor into a satisfying home chord to end on. Regardless, Hultens poise and ability to craft a timeless and landmarkless folk style is superb and this collection of songs shows off the very best of gothic folk. Highly recommended.
Recommended track: The Mountain (Forest Version)
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