In terms of funny ‘goth’ shirts the market is – let’s say it that way – quite manageable. ‘I wear black until I find something darker’ is a classic but I can hardly think of any other one in that sector. After last night’s ESBEN AND THE WITCH gig in Berlin I stumbled over a middle-aged man wearing a sort of ‘nerdy fun’ shirt. It showed the iconic cover of JOY DIVISION‘s Unknown Pleasures album (you know, the one with the radio waves). On top of it the lettering ‘DEPECHE MODE‘ was printed, beneath the waves I read ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (famously by THE CURE). A kind of entertaining way of combining three influential dark wave bands into one shirt. I laughed quite a bit, gave that man a pat on the back and left the venue. It clearly remained the only funny moment of the evening.
No, there’s not much space for humour and irony within the world of ESBEN AND THE WITCH. The three-piece from Brighton rather drags itself and their audience into a world of dark desperation, hopelessness and gloomy noise. You have to look twice to find a bit of hope and some might not even find it after all. But what you get when you’re visiting a show by the trio is a great amount of relief through their performance. Like a healing outlet for all the fears, all the anger and everything that might stick in you. A chaotic catharsis on a cold autumn evening in October. We couldn’t ask for more.
The spooky intro already hints on the impending doom as ESBEN AND THE WITCH start their set with Press Heavenwards!, the opening track off their strong recent longplayer A New Nature. Singer and bassist Rachel Davies and guitarist Thomas Fischer let their instruments do the work as they slowly start to musically caress each other. In the meantime, drummer Daniel Copeman is just waiting for the moment to break loose. And you don’t have to worry as it will always happen sooner or later within the songs of these three evocators. The tracks of ESBEN AND THE WITCH quite often feel like a storm. They might start gently, like a little breeze before they slowly but steady evolve into something way bigger. Classical song structures do not exist, the band unfolds its songs in a more cinematic understanding. Rachel Davies works as a tempting siren whose delicate strong vocal performance just sucks the listener deeper into the eye of the storm. Suddenly we’re in the middle of chaos. Apocalypse wow! Fischer’s guitar creates sky-high walls of noise while Davies screams all the desperation right into our hearts. The storm gets heavier. Lightning. Thunder (aka the drums). A gateway to hell opens. We’re ready to jump and follow the band into our own decay. Boom!
As you can see one can quite easily run out of normal vocabulary when it comes to describing this experience. ESBEN AND THE WITCH deliver a delicate mixture of post-rock with an undeniable love for old post-punk and early goth rock. Sweet and tender moments constantly fight against chaotic noise. A track like The Jungle, a 15 minute long monster from A New Nature, is a fine example. In moments of silence like the reduced performance of The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain, Davies’ really makes you want to fall in love with her. But of course, such a moment won’t last long. Right afterwards the trio ends their ceremony with an epic performance of Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night before vanishing into darkness again. They return for a second and final encore in the form of Wooden Star, after the audience constantly cheered for over 5 minutes. It’s like nobody wanted to leave this dark but magical microcosm. In the end, Rachel Davies tenderly smiles all over her face. There’s hope after all.