Esben and the Witch

A New Nature

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The third studio album and first release on the Brighton, England-based group's own Nostromo label, A New Nature finds Esben & the Witch refining their signature blend of doom folk and gothic alt-rock, allowing famed audio distiller Steve Albini to strip away the layers of caustic atmosphere and present the trio in its rawest form. With Albini aboard, the PJ Harvey-fronting-Slint comparisons are sure to fly (they are also pretty spot on), but Thomas Fisher, Daniel Copeman, and Rachel Davies draw from a much deeper and darker well. Like their closest regional contemporaries, Wolf People, the trio's hard rock and doom metal tendencies are tempered by a fascination with English folk, but while the former lean harder toward the early Fairport Convention side of things, Esben & the Witch seem drawn to the feral psych-folk of Comus. Davies' delivery is part recitation and part incantation, and her slightly bluesy cadence lends songs like "Dig Your Fingers In" and the cryptic and claustrophobic "Those Dreadful Hammers" a sort of timeless unease that invokes everyone from Jim Morrison to Kendra Smith (Opal, Dream Syndicate). She guides the missiles, but it's Fisher and Copeman who register the kills. Stripped of some its flair, the band sounds both invigorated and a tad unsteady (an Albini trademark), but never have they sounded more muscular, and while all of the Swans, PJ Harvey, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor analogies are apt, they're just keywords put in place to lead potential listeners to the river, however dangerous and awash with foul things it may be.

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