ESBEN AND THE WITCH – OLDER TERRORS

Esben and the Witch has almost become a cult band. Cast your mind back; yes, they gained notable attention back in 2011 (has it really been that long ago?) when their debut album Violet Cries and tracks such as ‘Marching Song’ got the band noticed by mogul DJs at the BBC. They were subsequently shortlisted for BBC’s Sound Of 2011 poll and were noticeably out of place alongside the other hopefuls for that year including Jessie J, James Blake, The Vaccines and Wretch 32, to name but a few. Their sound was darker, a bit gloomy, and more than a little serious.

Being overtly serious often leaves little room for manoeuvre. There are instances time and again across their – now four – albums that, as a listener, you begin to feel that you’ve heard it all somewhere before, and on their latest album Older Terrors, Esben and the Witch wear a fatigue. Violet Cries stated their murky intent before 2013’s Wash the Sins Not Only the Face saw them pivot into lucid textures. It was brief however, with 2014’s third offering A New Nature dishing out both the bark and the bite, seeking a primal rawness that permeates to the present.

Older Terrors is 45 minutes and four songs long. This is a band stretching their writing skills and musical ability, and now that it is here Older Terrors feels like the logical next step in the trio’s evolution. The songs themselves appear almost as chapters of a book or acts in theatre, each serving a specific purpose, and each with its own personality. Opener ‘Sylvan’ lulls into a false sense of security, with vocalist Rachel Davies’ ever-exquisite vocal luring deeper into the eerie melodrama. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not merely an album, but more of a composition, one that in writing the band have allowed the natural flow of their experimentation to breathe. You can almost audibly hear the exhale of relief. This is a band writing solely for themselves.

There is somewhat predictability in the softer moments in that – sooner or later – you know that those delicacies will abate and descend into gurning, doom-laden guitars and clattering drums. ‘Making The Heart of a Serpent’ is one such example: as we cross the centre of the track it descends into an urgency; the pace doubles, and then does so again, Davies’ howling to the moon as Thomas Fisher’s guitar wriggles restlessly in its own whorl of noise, Daniel Copeman’s drumming commanding the fray.

And then before you know it, the tension is gone, their beast feed from its confines at the climax. Perhaps the unanticipated ferocity of Older Terrors would have suited the moniker of “A New Nature” far more, for here is a band testing their own confines, and exploring their deeper instincts. Uncompromising intensity does breed fatigue, but it isn’t the be all and end all. There is no ‘No Dog’ here – a crossing point between accessibly condensed rock and their current, sonically expansive efforts. This is a band truly bolder than before. The beast that has been wrenching for years at its chains has finally been unleashed.

Esben and the Witch’s new album Older Terrors is released on 4th November. Stream the album in full here