20th February | Exchange

Tonight, with the wheel of Winter still grinding towards Spring, I wrap the darkness around me for a cloak and welcome the biting cold like a friend as I continue towards the welcome hub of the Exchange. The desolate season provides the perfect backdrop to the visceral music of Esben and the Witch who are currently touring with Older Terrors; their new album “dedicated to the sublime”.

The folktale-inspired Brighton trio are supported tonight by local bands; the explosive Sugar Horse and reverent, doom-laden Age Decay. Together, they imbue the stage ready for something tangibly primordial.

When EATW materialise onstage, one by one, the crowd is hushed by a quavering chord sent gliding through the air by Thomas Fisher’s guitar. Rachel Davies’ breathy vocals coax the glowing spark of ‘Sylvan’ into life until it catches and then, flames everywhere. Her distorted bass sends waves out into the room under the intense, soaring space echoes of the guitar. Here is all the panic and urgency of the hunt as we are sent hurtling down the rabbit hole; over and over; the barrage of Daniel Copeman’s crashing cymbals ringing in our ears.

The dark, intimate venue of the Exchange lends itself exactly to EATW’s live set – inducing a delicious, skin-prickling sense of claustrophobia during these explosive moments at the same time as feeling like the ground beneath you has just opened out into the void. The band demonstrate a masterful exploration into the dynamics of subtle, shimmering space and cataclysmic cacophony. The deeper we are dragged galloping into the dark spaces between here and nowhere, the more we come to realise we are the riders of our own fateful steed.

There is something discernible in the powerful, repetitive chorus of ‘Dig Your Fingers In’ which could certainly be likened to “nightmare pop”. Again, in new song, ‘The Wolf’s Sun’, during the shift into the second half of the song, Copeman’s bouncing paradiddles are designed to get feet shuffling and heads nodding in a pulsating, heady trance. What is clear here is the band’s intention with their music, and that is to deliver their audience into an altogether more primal state of mind, place and time. The undertones run in ancient rivers.

The singular, vulnerable beauty of Davies’ a capella in ‘The Fall of Glorieta Mountain’, answered by Fisher’s wistful, lonesome guitar, is a breathtaking testimony to EATW’s ability to transfix an audience; stripped of all unnecessary accoutrements, their subliminal conveyance summons a deep yearning: “Are you the answer? Or are you an echo?”

Quickening the pace to end, EATW choose to test the waters with the currently unreleased ‘Dull Gret’; reaching into the niches of inspiration that may otherwise elude, and in my opinion this is what the band cultivate so well. Appearing to pertain to the warrior woman of Flemish folklore, the residual mists part and we find ourselves on a sonic battlefield as the band strive toward something wholly more urgent in its resolution. There is renewed, furious vigour in their playing; fighting like a wild animal pack, cornered. The energy in the room grows ever powerful with each thud of the bass drum on ‘The Jungle’ and we watch, gripped, as Davies’ finally allows herself to be taken by the spirit they have awoken, slicing arcs through the air with the head of her guitar, her hair in tangles across her face: “She roared like a lioness, shaking the night/And empowered she sprinted deep into the light.”

Emerging from the siege, their humble thanks received by an audience held in rapture, Esben and the Witch veil themselves again as unostentatiously as they came. The path they carve is somewhat aloof, but those who are drawn to follow will no doubt glean an empyreal vault of fascination.

Check out Esben and the Witch’s official video for ‘Dig Your Fingers In’ here: