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ESBEN AND THE WITCH

Esben And The Witch

Hold Sacred

    Esben and the Witch — comprising Rachel Davies, Thomas Fisher and Daniel Copeman — began in Brighton in 2008, later decamped to Berlin, and is now split three ways across the UK, Germany and the US. Their winding geographical journey feels representative of their path as a whole. The band have snaked through various scenes and sonic worlds across their 14 years together, while always squirming away from an easy genre classification. Their first two albums, 2011’s Violet Cries and 2013’s Wash the Sins Not Only The Face — both released on Matador Records — offered gothic, electronic-tinged dream pop and post-rock. Beginning with the Steve Albini-produced A New Nature (2014, self-released on their own Nostromo Records), they came to explore heavier post-punk and metal textures, which they intensified through 2016’s Older Terrors and 2018’s Nowhere (both via Marseille-based metal label Season of Mist).

    Hold Sacred represents a reset in many ways. After Nowhere, Davies felt exhausted and disenfranchised with music, and for a while entertained the possibility that Esben and the Witch had come to an end. If they were to make a new album, they needed to take everything back to basics. They departed from their record label, returning to independence through Nostromo. They expanded operations, too, with the launch of Haus Nostromo, an online emporium and journal through which they branch away from purely music, selling “a curated collection of books, zines, art prints, clothing and more”. It’s aimed at building community, celebrating the act of collaboration, and offering an ethical, passion-driven and truly DIY platform for artists across various mediums. “Similar to the spirit of Esben, it’s always been essential for us to do everything on our own terms,” says Davies.

    In the summer of 2019, the band retreated to a villa outside of Rome, with no expectations or pressures but simply the intention to enjoy each other’s company and see what musical inspiration may arise from that. This is where the rough sketches of the songs that would form Hold Sacred came to be. “It was a wonderful, restorative retreat,” Davies says. “It felt free again, and a reminder that perhaps there was still a spark left for us to unearth.”

    The songs that were emerging were different than any previous. They’re brooding, gentle, almost ambient; there are no live drums, and the instrumentals comprise simple, sparse guitar and keys. “We wanted to create a softer, calmer record; a record we’d listen to when we need soothing, like the ambient records we find comforting and, dare I say, almost spiritual,” says Davies. The band used no outside producers or engineers, keeping the process limited to the three of them from start to finish — harkening back to the spirit of their earliest days when Copeman would record them in his bedroom and bathroom.


    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Brittle, atmospheric post-rock instrumentals and beatless ambient excursions beautifully accentuated by the haunting vocals of Rachael Davies. Swimming with gothic charm, but undeniably beautiful 'Hold Sacred' is new territory for the band, and sounds every bit as necessary as the rest of their canon.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. The Well
    2. In Ecstasy
    3. Fear Not
    4. Silence, 1801
    5. True Mirror
    6. A Kaleidoscope
    7. Heathen
    8. The Depths
    9. Petals Of Ash 

    Esben And The Witch

    Wash The Sins Not Only The Face

    Dispelling any burden of ‘the difficult second album’, Esben And The Witch have comprehensively transcended any such slump or curse with ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’, a majestic, haunting and triumphant work that is not ‘difficult’ in the slightest.

    Their second full-length brings to fruition concepts that glimmered on their first, 2011’s acclaimed ‘Violet Cries’, but there are no laurels being rested upon here. To make their second album, Esben And The Witch questioned, challenged and rewired their past to find the way to their future and have produced their first masterpiece.

    To quote Daniel Copeman, “We had a clearer idea of what we wanted to achieve on this album, and how we could achieve it. We’re more focused, more confident.”

    Their first album took them on the road, and the road took them all over the globe. It was on these journeys, during van-held conversations, that their second album began to take shape, the band happening upon an ancient Greek palindrome ‘Nipson anomēmata mē monan opsin’ which, when translated, gave ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ its title.

    They wanted the album to unfurl like a journey, like a day, where opening songs are possessed of a brightness, an optimism that ebbs away over the record’s course. The radiant glide of opener ‘Iceland Spar’, gives way to the bleak lonesomeness of ‘Yellow Wood’, the moment where the sun sets, with closing track ‘Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night’ ending proceedings at a peak of drama and intensity.

    Previously, lyrics were written more collaboratively between the trio; this time Rachel assumed the sole responsibility herself, honing her words and stories. The lyrics are inspired by TS Eliot and Sylvia Plath, by the works of Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Pullman, Salvador Dali and the surrealist movement; that, and van conversations questioning what it would be like to meet your doppelganger thousands of miles from home.

    The result is an album that finds new shades within the Esben palette, and when placed alongside ‘Violet Cries’, feels like a fuzzy image that’s pulled successfully into focus.

    All of this makes you wonder where this road will take them next. More to the point, it makes you want to savour where Esben And The Witch are at now, because ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ is a sublime experience, an album whose mysteries and riddles will entrance.

    TRACK LISTING

    Iceland Spar
    Slow Wave
    When That Head Splits
    Shimmering
    Deathwaltz
    Yellow Wood
    Despair
    Putting Down The Prey
    The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain
    Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night


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