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Jonathan Hultén: the maverick guitarist leading metal into strange new realms

(Image credit: Kscope/Soile Siirtola)

Following up his mesmerising 2017 EP, The Dark Night Of The Soul, Tribulation guitarist Jonathan Hultén returns with his full-length solo debut, Chants From Another Place. An utterly transfixing voyage through dreamy acoustic landscapes, Chants… sees the Grammy-winning Swede step broadly away from the punishing frays of black and death metal into something far more introspective. Rooted in the old folk and religious choral traditions, the 12 compositions articulate Jonathan’s artistic and spiritual evolution, beginning many years ago.

“My mother used to be a choir leader,” he explains. “She sang in a choir and played in churches, in concerts and whatnot. Basically, for a while, I was also a church musician. She’s always played those songs at home.” 

Breathtakingly fragile, tracks like A Dance In The Road, Deep Night and The Mountain tap into a vibrant cosmic realm, pitched just beyond the five senses. Summoning nature as his muse, these songs build a powerful psychic bridge into that otherworldly state of being.

“It feels like there’s something mystical about it that’s drawing me in,” he says. “And I imbue nature with that feeling, as if it was nature that inspired those songs, once upon a time. That’s what the album’s about as well. In the end, the pictures that appeared to my inner eye were all about trees and mountains and the sea.”

With the exception of drums on one song, Jonathan composed and performed the entire album himself. Yet Chants… is anything but one of those stodgy and self-indulgent singer/songwriter affairs; rather, these tracks ebb and flow with lush, spectral harmonies and delicate fingerstyle melodies that recall the baroque British folk tradition of the late-60s, sprinkled with delicate flecks of dreampop. 

Thematically, silvery metaphors of death, rebirth and the cycle of life invest the album with a real sense of heaviness that permeates every note.

“This current society isn’t staring into the face of death at all. Ha ha!” he says. “It seems as if we’re more obsessed with staying as young as possible. I guess that’s the opposite of embracing ageing and by extension, embracing death. The eras of a person’s life – the milestones, or the major events that determine where you’re going – are saying goodbye to an old way of being. Let’s say you’re not in school anymore and you’re about to enter the world of being an adult. Or you are turning 30, for example, or maybe you’re starting a new job or you’re moving somewhere else. It’s all about entering something new and saying goodbye to the old. It can have a very profound effect on our lives.” 

Chants… is ultimately an affirmative collection of meditations that find hope in the idea of impermanence. “Change is actually quite vitalising and energising if you can accept it, but it can be very uncomfortable sometimes. And scary.”

The contrast between his solo compositions and his work in Tribulation is dramatic, and yet Jonathan believes that the two forms inhabit a symbiotic relationship. “I’ve noticed that they tend to borrow things from each other, these personas that I explore within myself. It just comes naturally. When I explore this way of performing, like certain hand movements, they start coming into the Tribulation performance quite naturally. So the line is blurry. The Tribulation thing has been going on for a long time; like 10 years, I guess. But [my solo work] is just two or three years old, so we’ll see where that ends. It could end up in a really strange or wacky place. I don’t know. Let’s hope so! Ha ha ha!”

(Image credit: Ester Segarra)

Naturally, Tribulation fans will be among the first to check out his solo album and asked how they might respond, Jonathan only hazards a guess. “I really don’t know what they’ll think. It depends if they’re fans of the earlier stuff or fans of Tribulation’s latest stuff, because it’s quite different. I guess you would not appreciate Chants… as much if you weren’t into goth rock or if you were strictly a metal-oriented person. The jump from goth rock to Nick Drake is at least smaller than [2009 Tribulation debut] The Horror’s death metal to Nick Drake.” 

It will help, he suggests, to listen to Chants… on a long, unhurried walk outdoors. “That’s the way to listen to music, really,” he says. “To be in nature and to get that sort of synesthesia of music marrying into something extremely powerful, visually, along with the other senses as well — smells, wind in your face and a sense of freedom in being one with nature.”

Such emotive and compelling songwriting will surely find much acclaim among both critics and fans, but regardless of opinion, Jonathan has drawn deep satisfaction from the process. “I didn’t exactly know which way it was going to take me,” he explains. “I had been wanting to do an album like this for over 10 years or more, even before I started singing and picking up a guitar, I knew that this was something that I would want to do in the future. It’s a longtime dream and that it would turn out exactly like this? I guess I had a hunch, but here we are and I guess it’s something I couldn’t have predicted when I was 20. But right now it feels like it came out the way it should have. What I’ve accomplished is that I’ve realised a really old dream of mine.”