Striking out, sans label safety net, is always a risk. It offers the jackpot of complete creative control, the satisfaction of solo success and proud independence, but it’s still a heckuva chance to take. For their third LP, Brighton’s post-rock aficionados Esben and the Witch rolled those dice/span that wheel/placed that bet/gambling metaphors.
A New Nature, following on from the three-piece’s debut, Violet Cries, and last year’s follow-up, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face, is due out on Nostromo Records, the band’s own label. Funded via PledgeMusic, as so many records seem to be nowadays, they were able to recruit Steve Albini for the recording process. The Shellac mainman and general production legend was a wise choice, as A New Nature proves. Many critics noted that they were growing into their skin on the past few records, slowly creeping out with a dab more confidence each time; well on their third record, they’ve hulked. They’ve not grow into their skin, they’ve burst through it.
“No Dog” is a deafening tirade, with angular tribal percussion jutting out at odd angles, droning atmospheres are created not by slowly structured layers, but by the feedback and reverb dripping off the frenetic fretwork. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s metal-tinged soundscapes are touched upon. “No Dog” is a dingy, murky netherworld; fuzzy greyscale lichen scales the obsidian walls, there’s the perpetual drip-drip-drip of oily water. It’s a harrowing bombast, with Gollum-esque creatures and the demon from Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” living together. Crucially, it’s gorgeously empowering. It’s not inherently evil, but rather a rabble-rousing call-to-arms: “I/AM/NO/DOG,” Rachel Davies howls. Blood-simmeringly emotive, it could be an anthem for revolution.
“No Dog” is a track that sets the tone for the whole record. A New Nature is the V For Vendetta of post-rock. “Jungle”, aping Savages’ dark-punk malice on “Marshal Dear”, is massive. Sprawling over 14 minutes, Esben and the Witch trawl through post-apocalyptic devastation, amidst the charred ember-riddled urban debris and ash-lined streets. Davies’ voice whistles through the cinematic expanse as if a foreboding wind. It grows and burbles, swelling too large, until it explodes with violence. Traumatic, and punctuated by a saxophone solo, blaring clarion through jet smog, “Jungle” stares down oblivion.
This record is a masterpiece of aural and visual pandemonium. It’s breathtaking, inducing arrhythmia, driving you to the verge of cardiac arrest – there’s a real, present danger in their music. It’s also breathtaking in another sense: it’s beautiful. Skyscraper girders buckle and contort, the eerie creak of iron echoing in through A New Nature. At times, you may be in the middle, dodging the pummelling wreckage, but at other points, like “Those Dreadful Hammers”, you’re sat watching the destruction from afar.
Lots of early listeners have noted the similarities between PJ Harvey’s early efforts and A New Nature. Perhaps they are apt links when taking the record apart track-by-track, but this isn’t an album to be nibbled on. Let Esben and the Witch drag you under the waves; let them wrench the scruff of your neck into the furnace. They don’t want to hurt you, nor inflict pain. They want transformation. Rebellion. War.