Esben and the Witch – Nowhere

Named after a Danish fairytale, it has been ten years since Esben and the Witch first joined forces and began to cast their spell on fans of atmospheric goth-pop. Over the four previous records, they have bewitched and beguiled a growing audience, and now it is to the mystical land of Nowhere that they take their journey.

The Berlin and UK-based trio of Rachel Davies (vocals), Thomas Fisher (guitar) and Daniel Copeman (drums) have once again concocted up a brooding, atmospheric world across six lengthy, sprawling tracks. Opener ‘A Desire For Light’ starts as if the listener is pitched into a raging sea, the album beginning in tumult and rarely letting up from there. Wonderfully atmospheric from the first notes, the search and desire for the light informs a track that builds and grows out of the darkness. Davies’ vocals are ethereal and chilling, her warning of: “A splash of blood soaks me to the bone” sounding ominous and hypnotic. It is like being immediately plunged into a dark ceremony inside this unforgiving Nowhere.

More blood is spilled in ‘Dull Gret’, (“We’re savage and uncouth, we’ve a taste for blood and we will take you tooth by tooth“) yet, it is in the music that danger lurks too. The majority of the tracks build from simple beginnings into raging torrents of sound, summoning up vivid images of beast and claw. A mystery lies over many of the lyrics, some passages almost unintelligible, snatches only to be heard as if transmitted through a fog. It all adds to a sense of intrigue that only deepens as it continues, ‘Golden Purifier’ coming on like a sinister version of The xx. Drums roll in like an endless tide, volume and intensity building hand-in-hand. When the storm finally breaks on the thunderous ‘The Unspoiled’, it is deafening. The trio have mastered the art of building a mood. As Davies cries: “Don’t let me go” at its climax, echoes as if she has been dragged off to who knows where.

There are enough changesa of pace and mood that ensure that this isn’t a one-trick record. On the closing ‘Darkness (I Too Am Here)’, a metal riff that Black Sabbath themselves would have been proud of kicks in. It is these moments that elevate it, though it still always fits inside a particularly dark mood. For those willing to brave the journey to Nowhere, it will captivate like no other trip. Just be careful you don’t end up staying too long.

Jamie MacMillan

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