Esben and the Witch — comprising Rachel Davies, Thomas Fisher and Daniel Copeman have been going since 2008, flirted with gothic, electronic-tinged dream pop and exploring heavier post-punk and metal textures over their run of albums. They have returned now with their new album ‘Hold Sacred’ a collection of brooding, gentle, ambient staked compositions. “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. Something you can clearly sense with the album as there really isn’t anyone else who sounds like Esben. That unique voice of Rachel Davies on the gentle and mystical opening track ‘The Well’ hooks you into an album that’s full of charm and wonder and perhaps the finest offering this band have giving their fans.
After the perfectly picked guitar parts fade away from the first track, the album unfolds like an early morning sunrise as second track ‘In Ecstasy’ builds on what ‘The Well’ started. The vocals get a little more impassioned and the band start adding more textures and colours to the music slowly enhancing the albums atmospherics.
The unfolding continues with ‘Fear Not’ where Davies vocals take on angelic heights. The ethereal beauty is in the stark minimalistic approach. From the more frantic post punk brilliance of their earlier work the albums sits as a mature and confident mark with the band creating what they want in this particular time. A sign of the aging process I guess.
The enchanting ‘Silence, 1801’ has an airy feel and is as stripped back as you can get. The way the band make tracks like this such a listenable experience is a nod to the years they have honed their songwriting craft. This is one track that should be carefully explored with a pair of headphones.
‘True Mirror’ ushers in a beating heart and synths and is perhaps the most animated track on the album. It’s another impassioned vocal with the addition of a bass line the track has a more urgent feel with that rhythmic heartbeat becoming almost hypnotic. A gentle guitar cascade brings things to a close.
The majestic ‘A kaleidoscope’ is a glittering slice of brilliance that builds in intensity soft scintillating keys build a sonic wall that’s equally vast as it is sparse. Its tracks like this that you realise how important Davies’s voice is to the bands sound and its tracks like these on this album were her voice really comes into its own.
The almost prayer like ‘Heathen’ excels with some of Davies finest lyrical moments. It’s written as a call and response — “a conversation with an absent God,” says Davies. The rhythmic gloom conducted through a round of simple notes really is soothing for the soul.
The heartbeat returns with ‘The Depths’ an almost apocalyptic doom call which has a glimpse of percussion wrapped in the pulsating shallows of the music. ‘Petals Of Ash’ carries on in a similar vein as it puts to the close this atmospheric masterpiece.
Who needs percussion and a heap of instruments jammed on a track to make life interesting. What Esben do with a voice and shimmering guitars can not be matched with a full blown orchestra. This album is all about the feel the emotive power that music has. The band wield it with inch perfect accuracy crafting one of the finest albums of the year and their career.
Check out the track Kaleidoscope, below:
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