Christopher Owens reviews a recent album.
In this oversaturated age, Esben and the Witch remain a welcome, if hidden, secret.
Initially NME favourites due to their blend of dream-pop and gothy backgrounds, the band have gradually upped the darkness and intensity on their records, creating another world. One populated by eerie forests, where dimly lit campfires offer the only source of bright light and the stars are more R Sculptoris than Deneb. Quite appropriate, considering they now call Berlin their home.
2016's 'Older Terrors' was their best release to date, and an example of how far they had come from their early days. A live show I caught not too long afterwards was such a magical journey.
So, the expectations for 'Nowhere' are pretty high on my part, helped by that beautiful cover which harks back to their debut LP. This time, however, autumn has set in and the lure of the natural landscape is too much for the group, who have conquered it and sit atop surveying everything they see.
'A Desire for Light' is a much more assertive opener than expected. Hitting the listener with tribal drumming and a chord sequence that feels ethereal and other worldly. This is matched by the vocals and the lyrics, which talk about love as if a ritual to be performed under a blood red moon.
Musically, there isn't a lot of variation going on throughout the track, giving proceedings a feel that is both unrelenting and rigid, which contrasts with the yearning, searching vocals that float into the atmosphere like smoke from a bonfire.
In the era of #MeToo, 'Dull Gret' should be hailed as an inspirational folklore. A Flemish legend, she is reinvented by Davies as a warrior who is savage and with a taste for blood. While Davies' vocal delivery does not express rage in the sense of the song being a call to arms, her wailed delivery makes it more of a folk song, while the music alternates between icily cold/minimal to fiery/expressionist.
The songs follow a similar pattern of beginning quietly, and then building to magnificent crescendos. Listened to individually, it can get a bit tiring. But, in the context of the album, the songs fit together and take you through a desolate landscape.
Like all of their albums, 'Nowhere' is something you must listen to from beginning to end, and in one sitting. Esben and the Witch aren't interested in short term pleasures, but something much more substantial. Something that builds upon every listen and enriches the experience.
A haunting venture through an icy cold world where you are the only survivor. Utterly bleak, yet uplifting.
➽ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212