I’ll be honest here: I’m feeling a little burned out on heavy music as of late. Not that there hasn’t been a long list of stellar heavy releases this year, not that I’ll never go back to it, but I just feel tired of loud and aggressive when everything outside the music world is almost unbearably loud and aggressive. I need a break, something that does a better job of helping me escape and take my mind away to a better, more peaceful place. Enter Hagathorn and their debut release Hartworld, which rings incredibly close to what I need.
Hagathorn (Old English for “hawthorn”) is the brainchild of American musician Will Ott, whose work pulls from a variety of backgrounds, like ancient Northern folklore, medieval music, and tranquil nature scenes. The music on Hartworld is a mix of original compositions and classics of yore, all of which are played solely by Ott on traditional instruments that hearken back to a much, much simpler time. The whole aesthetic, indeed, evokes a wistful, transportive sense of wonder and yearning that immediately transports me away from where I am and conjures up images of serene fields, gentle rivers and majestic forests. Pastoral is the word, I find. According to Ott, “The spirit of Hagathorn therefore exists to breathe life into feelings and emotions from forgotten times, helping us to rediscover our connections to old magic and nature that is still alive within us.” It really is a magical listen, one that connects to a primal need in me to experience nature and get out of my body. It’s not an overly complex affair. Each song is really a series of repeated, hypnotic melodies layered over each other, but the end result is something that is positively enchanting, and a there is a lot of beauty to be found in the simplicity here.
Immediately upon pressing play for the first time, a sense of soothing peace is apparent. “Meadow Gale” prominently displays the medieval flare of the album with gentle lute arpeggios and droning strings that evoke feelings that are both ancient and perennial. It’s practically mesmerizing, so much so that the blend of everything going on almost makes you forget this is the dedicated work of one man, playing every instrument and arranging everything incredibly carefully. “Hrethmonath,” similarly, does a great job of balancing the ambience of bowed strings with the high melody of an instrument I am having a hard time placing. It’s very understated, but again, the beauty lies in the simplicity and in the way that the instruments trade off taking the spotlight to give the song breath and space. It’s not overly sweet; in fact, there is almost an ominous sense in the atmosphere some of these compositions, but it’s perfectly balanced with the melodies. “The Old Orchard” is a track that was written to celebrate the life of ancestors past, and it really does capture a rustic feel, like that of being alone in a field, soaking in all the history of what came before. “Birch Lore” closes the album with a more wild, natural vibe, with droning vocals and Its feel is very old, but in the mystical sense, not in any way that implies it is outdated. In fact, I’d say we need more of this now than ever.
Hartworld is exactly what I’ve needed. I don’t just need something that isn’t heavy, I need something that is deep and rich and full of life and evocative. I don’t need to feel less, I need to feel something more powerful than anger and frustration. I need to feel connected to something bigger and more esoteric, and Hartworld absolutely does that. The way that Ott captures the power and magic inherent in nature and history is something that many have tried and few have actually mastered, and for a surprise debut album of a project that almost no one knew existed until it happened, it is truly masterful how every part and piece of this record is given so much attention and care. I already can’t wait for the next one.