Shinjuku Thief

The Witch Haven

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Latest in the series of "witch"-themed releases from Verhagen in his Shinjuku Thief guise, The Witch Haven makes for another fine release in the moody, dramatic, and orchestrated style familiar from the musician in his works. With the start-the-horror-movie-just-right synth gloom and whispering guitar drones of "Waking at Dusk" kicking things off, the nearly 50-minute effort readily ranks as a highlight for Verhagen -- in ways, his only peer would be In the Nursery, but he has his own gripping, darkwave style. Certainly when the album gets more strident, as with the Wagner-ian punch of "Father of Lies," one can readily imagine the forces of the dark lord lighting torches, drawing swords, and figuring out the best way to disembowel somebody. The sheer focus of many of the songs is quite something; Verhagen has an ear for the subtlest of touches, as when the strings suddenly appear -- quietly -- on "Edge of the Wilderness/Black Cockerel White Stick." The combination of an ambient noise mix and the slow orchestration calls to mind Gavin Bryars' mid-'90s version of The Sinking of the Titanic, though employed to different ends here. Elsewhere, there's slightly twisted cabaret Tom Waits would happily be proud of ("A Tavern for Midwives" in particular is goofy good fun), along with deep mixes of gloom and clatter that show the fine influence Martin Hannett's production for Joy Division continues to have. When Verhagen strips everything away to let a solitary instrument or two come through -- check the transition in "A Red Room/A Slow Dance," where Philip Pietruschka's clarinet takes sudden, striking center stage -- the results often captivate. Then there's the overdubbed vocal wails on "The White Lady," which more than once sounds like the world's most beautiful banshee out for blood.