The Heartwood Institute is quite the Gothic and haunted musical world. I’m new to Jonathan Sharp’s musical project, but I’m quickly becoming obsessed. It’s a mix of vintage and modern sounds, like a childhood dream replayed with modern equipment. The fidelity is sharp, but the intention is still opaque and drifting towards morose. Listening to The Heartwood Institute is like finding a tattered old shoe box in a closet you don’t remember existing in the hallway prior to finding it. Inside the shoe box is a collection of “Missing” posters; various strangers’ faces on tattered and fading pieces of copy paper due to time spent on street light posts and municipal park Sycamores. You even find flyers of missing pets scattered amongst the dads, daughters, sons, and moms gone to time.
The Heartwood Institute is the musical equivalent of memories lost to time, buzzing with circuital menace.
For The Heartwood Institute’s latest album, the macabre and darkly melancholy Witchcraft Murders, Sharp takes us back to mid- 20th century England and digs into the brutal murder of Charles Watson and the body of a woman found inside a tree at Hagley Wood. Both remain unsolved and are rumored to be witchcraft related. Who better to interpret that scene than The Heartwood Institute?
Witchcraft Murders buzzes with electric mystery. Horror synth with intent to leave its mark on your heart and mind. Ghostly sway pulls you in with the opening salvo “In The Shadow Of Meon Hill”, which seems to carry with it the heft of history that it tries to recreate musically. “14th February 1945” sounds like a rusted machine coming to life, bringing us into the dark woods where a violent fate was met. “Stacung” wobbles and churns, painting a vision of violence and loss.
Elsehwere “Fabian Investigates” feels like a sad calm among the darkness that transpired all those years ago. Sharp is adept at building mood and emotional connection even with the most macabre of subjects. “Who Put Bella Down The Wych Elm?” pulsates with modern electronic touches while also sounding like a spectral score to some 60s BBC horror series. The dread is palpable in this track. “Unidentified Remains” drones with otherworldly delight.
The Heartwood Institute walks us thru this dark corner of history, and “Unidentified Remains” is the sound of the gate closing behind us as we leave Hagley Wood.
The Heartwood Institute goes for old school vibes and genuine chills down the spine on Witchcraft Murders. The album succeeds both as a soundtrack to the macabre, but also as a late night deep dive into electro synth horror of the finest kind. Just avoid any closets that may appear out of nowhere.
8.1 out of 10
The Heartwood Institute’s ‘Witchcraft Murders’ goes on sale 2/5/20 over at Library of the Occult. Hit up their Bandcamp page Friday morning and grab this slab of wax before they’ve all disappeared.