[sic] Magazine

Esben And The Witch – A New Nature

Esben And The Witch have never quite made the most of the sum of their parts. Somewhat standoffish on record, the atmospheric Brighton trio possess all that’s necessary for a powerful post-rock statement but remain one of alternative music’s nearly men (and woman) to date. A New Nature, however, may start swinging things in their favour. Now free of a label they certainly bring 100% of themselves to the table, but blaming any previous failings on Matador however is too convenient, for Violet Cries suffered just as much as Wash The Sins Not Only The Face did, both records stifling themselves just when the finish line was in sight.

These weren’t poor records though; it’s just they could have been more. And clearly many people agree because A New Nature was entirely funded by PledgeMusic. There was even enough left over to bring Steve Albini on board to record it in his typical bare-bones style. While certain tracks are left really quite beefy as a result, the wailing tail-end of “Blood Teachings” for example, that production is very thin on others though. Luxury studio treatment may not be the answer, but it would have made the album more muscular still, despite the band wishing to “keep things naked, unadorned and raw. The three of us, in a room, making noise.” Noise, in any case, they duly make. Employing that tried-and-tested quiet-loud tactic, the brooding “Jungle”, which lacks direction during its first half and could easily be cut, builds on a “Last Post”-style trumpet call to evoke post-apocalyptic imagery in its second half, the track’s 14 minutes culminating in a prehistoric roar.

There’s been a disconnect in the past when translating the band’s impressive live shows to the confines of a record, but the mighty “No Dog” goes some way to rectify this. Its thrilling intro full of quick-fire tribal drumming and searing feedback bring Swans to mind, before launching into a spectacular close as dark and insistent as Savages. Rachel Davies yells “I am no dog / I am a wolf” at its peak, exercising her vocal to new heights. She’s elsewhere on more typical form though, cooing like Beth Gibbons during the crunching “Press Heavenwards”, a decent post-rocker that suffers only from a limp ending.

The biggest problem on A New Nature, however, is how to balance Davies’ ethereal vocal with the band’s menacing doom-rock. At their most monolithic the band usually go instrumental as they can’t work Davies into the mix and when they rely on her for fireworks the music dissolves away into near ambience such as on the two pin-drop closers. It’s for this reason Esben And The Witch remain a quiet-loud band. In this structure they can accommodate both, albeit with varying results. On “Dig Your Fingers In” they get it right, Davies’ crawling around the gloom like PJ Harvey, the tension cracking with thunder with 30 seconds to go. There are too many moments nevertheless when they don’t find this same balance. Let’s stick with the positives though because, all the same, A New Nature contains some of the best Esben And The Witch material to date. Don’t bet against them eventually converting all this promise into a cohesive masterpiece.

Best track: “No Dog”

~A New Nature is released 1st September 2014 via the band’s own Nostromo Records.~