Esben and the Witch, the Brighton-based band known for their ethereal and genre-defying sound, returns with their sixth studio album, Hold Sacred. Will they hold true to their nature? Will they continue to defy musical boundaries with their trademark introspection and sensitivity?
With Hold Sacred, the band seems to want to take listeners on a new journey, weaving hauntingly beautiful atmospheres with soul-stirring lyrics that touch the corners of the soul. A quick Google will give you the origin of their name – drawing inspiration from the Danish fairytale Esben og Troldheksen (yep, Esben and the Witch in Danish), the band has however, spent fifteen years honing their craft, and their experience is evident throughout this album. Hold Sacred showcases their evolution and willingness to experiment, leaving an mark on the hearts of their devoted fanbase and this reviewer reckons newcomers too.
The album embraces a minimalistic approach, with Rachel Davies’ trademark mesmerising vocals, Thomas Fisher’s gentle guitar work, and Daniel Copeman’s evocative keys forming the core of each track. With a curious choice to be seemingly devoid of live drums, the trio instead crafts ambient atmospheres, bathing the music in spacious reverbs that add an otherworldly dimension to their sound. This departure from their previous album, Nowhere, which featured thick metallic layers, harks back to their 2014 release, A New Nature, known for its raw and primal essence – very fitting for a fairy tale named band!
From the opening track however, my playful teasing has to take a backseat. ‘The Well’, establishes an emotional connection that never wavers. Davies’ sultry and emotive vocals pull the listener into a contemplative space, while the accompanying instruments gently roll in, creating a captivating focus. The ethereal journey continues with ‘In Ecstasy’, a perfectly titled piece that exudes serenity and joy. Throughout the album, moments of melancholy intertwine with hope, making it a poignant reflection on the human experience – or at least the singer’s.
This is where the true magic of Hold Sacred lies, in the vulnerability of Davies’ lyrics. The songwriter delves deep into her subconscious, baring her emotional struggles and experiences of burnout and mental challenges. She steps out from behind mythology and metaphor, singing with soulful honesty. This raw introspection elevates the album to a profound level, resonating with listeners who may have endured similar struggles. Davies’ words feel like a guiding light, gently pulling the listener from the darkest shadows and offering a glimpse of hope.
‘Silence 1801’ serves as a spiritual interlude, leading into the enchanting ‘True Mirror’. Davies’ captivating storytelling explores themes of self-loathing and the search for transcendent self-love and acceptance. As the song evolves, it seamlessly transitions into the uplifting and stirring ‘A Kaleidoscope’, a celebration of rebirth and personal growth.
Esben and the Witch’s commitment to simplicity allows the emotional weight of Hold Sacred to shine. By stripping away the excess, the band channels the essence of their experiences and emotions, creating an album that sounds like the soul singing to its core. The absence of heavy or metallic elements does not diminish the album’s power; instead, it heightens the emotional impact of each track.
The album’s pinnacle, ‘Heathen’, is a moment of beautiful calm and quiet reflection. The song masterfully captures the internal conversations one has during moments alone, resonating deeply with listeners seeking solace and understanding. ‘The Depths’ follows suit, chronicling the struggle of swimming out of darkness after being submerged below.
As the album draws to a close with ‘Petals Of Ash’, Esben and the Witch leave a profound message. The song illuminates the concept of acknowledging fear while embracing the overwhelming power of love. Its pulse and hypnotic keys echo the idea that love is the ultimate force that sustains us, especially in a world filled with uncertainties.
Hold Sacred is a remarkable testament to the band’s musical maturity and willingness to explore new territories. Despite its minimalistic approach, the album is incredibly rich and empowering, showcasing the band’s deep emotional journey. Esben and the Witch have crafted an experience that is not just an album, but an experience waiting to happen if you’ll only let it.
Hold Sacred is, bluntly… fantastic. Arguably a timeless gem that weaves a tapestry of emotions, leaving the listener mesmerised and profoundly moved. With its captivating atmospheres, hauntingly beautiful melodies, and heartfelt lyrics, this album stands as a testament to the transformative power of music.
Author: Tom, Cardiff Store