Four years ago, at Cult of Luna’s heralded Beyond The Redshift festival, I saw a band that went toe-to-toe with the headline acts and matched their beauty, elegance, and musical depth. Ten years into their career and with their fourth album Nowhere (Season of Mist) about to grace our ears, we find Esben And The Witch at their darkest.
The Brighton three-piece have never veered too far away from their unique blend of Pop psychedelia, Post-Rock and melancholia that every so slight brushes up against Doom and Post-Punk, but with each record there have been subtle tweaks to the formula, and Nowhere is no different. Whether it’s the shoegazey opener ‘A Desire For Light’ or the doomy, distorted guitar chords of ‘Dull Gret’, Nowhere is a much more immediate record than the band’s previous two outings. Whereas A New Nature (Nostromo) was a slow-burning, Swans-like affair, Nowhere takes that raw purity and condenses it into a much more manageable piece of art that feels a lot more impactful for its brevity.
Dreamy guitar passages move effortlessly in and out of Rachel Davies’ PJ Harvey-esque voice, while the hazy electronics and tribal drumming give a hypnotic sway to ‘Dull Gret’. ‘Golden Purifier’ feels like a callback to older Esben And The Witch material in its stripped back approach and simplicity, letting Rachel’s voice take centre-stage while melancholic guitar plucks in the background and gentle synths shake faintly in the distance akin to ‘The Fall of Glorieta Mountain’ or ‘Dig Your Fingers In’, albeit without the intense outro.
That intensity is saved, however, for ‘The Unspoiled’ as it opens with the crashing of symbols and repetitive beats from Daniel Copeman evoking the rumbling clouds of an oncoming storm. It’s quickly subverted by Rachel’s voice which once again oozes these gentle fragility as her words “Joy, boundless joy” give a stark contrast to the force of nature circling around her vocals.
This power continues and is perfectly encapsulated as the record ends with ‘Darkness (I Too Am Here)’ as the fuzzed up guitars and rhythmic drumming evoke the titular darkness encroaching on you. It’s at its most dynamic with the repetition of Rachel’s distant lyrics of “I Too Am Here” in between each line as the song nears its end, adding a duality and sense of self-reflection to a song that already bursts with emotion. It’s a subtle touch that, like with each new release, proves that Esben And The Witch doesn’t skimp on the details and these little flourishes combined add up to something wonderfully unique.
Wherever they plan to go next, you won’t regret going along for the ride.