Meet Darkher: Yorkshire's answer to Jex Thoth

Darkher black and white image on a grassy hill

Living where I live, I see animals, I see fields and I walk the same walk every day, twice a day, but it always seems different – it’s as though I’m going through the seasons with nature itself,” says vocalist and songwriter Jayn H Wissenberg. “Just like the moon controls the tides and everything is connected, we are all part of this big, universal, beautiful, awe-inspiring thing each day.”

Through her unique perception of the natural world, the confident and enigmatic singer, hailing from the small West Yorkshire market town of Hebden Bridge, creates emotive and sincere avant-garde music.

Previously frontwoman of dark folk band The Steals, Wissenberg launched her solo career in 2014 with the release of her acclaimed EP The Kingdom Field, under the name Darkher.

“Essentially, Darkher started because I wanted to be able to go out with the guitar on my own and not have to worry about the band – just get out there and play,” she explains.

Subsequently touring with acts such as Dead Meadow, Esben And The Witch and Chelsea Wolfe, Darkher’s sound is doomy post-rock reminiscent of early Jex Thoth, and it’s attracting gothic, prog and doom fans, as well as occult enthusiasts.

I tend to write when I’m feeling most open, and the music comes from within a dark place.

Easily recognisable thanks to her long red hair, sorceress-chic dresses and the guitar that’s permanently stuck to her side, Darkher’s exceptional debut album Realms is a raw musical personification of Mother Earth and the human condition in its purest and wildest form.

“The realms form a context which could be interpreted in many different ways,” Wissenberg explains. “For me, it’s about the relationship between this world, past lives, whatever is next and things that we maybe cannot see. Connections between people and experience are also within these different realms that we all live in. This encapsulated what I was exploring while I was writing these songs.”

Realms is clearly inspired by the natural world: it’s a dark musical journey through heavy rainfall, oppressive forest landscapes and fast-flowing rivers.

“The elements – earth, air, fire and water – mean everything to me,” says Wissenberg. “In terms of spirituality, I feel that if everyone may or may not have a connection to God or any other deity, for me, nature feels like my pious connection. The fact we cannot survive without it makes it the most important thing to me, and that’s how strongly I feel about it.”

Darkher’s lyrics are sombre and dreamy. The powerful Foregone is an example of the simple yet sinister words that accompany the signature marching drums: ‘Be not the fallen wings, be not the withering, don’t fear anybody’s listening. It’s foregone.’

“It wasn’t like I ever thought, ‘Oh yeah, this song is going to be about death and this one will be about the afterlife.’ I guess those elements came out naturally because I was exploring those themes, having gone through several deaths, and I was grieving quite a lot at the time. That’s usually when I tend to write, when I’m feeling most open, and the music comes from within a dark place.”

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom: Wissenberg is cheerful and able to see humour in her striking appearance. “I know I probably look like somebody who would sing about folklore,” she laughs. “But I think what I do is sing about my own personal life experience within a dialogue that makes it more poetic to me.”

Though Darkher is a solo project, she has some additional musicians who accompany her in her journey. Anathema and My Dying Bride drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels joined Darkher in 2015, while Wissenberg’s husband provides additional guitars.

“It’s just as easy for me to sit on my own and build something,” Wissenberg says of her songwriting process. “My husband Martin is in the band now and he has always had a great musical collection. The fact that there’s another musician around the house means you can try something out at any time.”

Much like King Crimson and Black Widow, who showed an interest in esoteric matters, Wissenberg admits that there’s a ceremonial element to her live performances. “Probably every musician feels the same way, but playing live is a meeting of minds that allows you to reach a higher level, as though you’re basically transcending. According to that, yes, it is a ceremonial experience.

“In the studio, it’s harder to feel that power because you have to translate ideas into the computer. The studio takes so long, and as much as I like spending time working on ideas, I am now at a point where I feel I’ve missed being able to put it out there and play for a receptive audience. Now that this is happening, it’s much more exciting for me.”

Similar artists such as Chelsea Wolfe have veered towards a more electronic sound over the years, but Wissenberg assures us that her mystical musical approach will remain instrument-based.

“When I was in my 20s I was doing electronic music, so it feels a bit ‘been there, done that’. I’d like to gear more towards orchestral music. I would love to work more with the cello and other wood instruments because I feel they resonate more with me. I just want to feel like I’m always getting better, to continue exploring music.”

Although an avid fan of music, Wissenberg confidently reveals that her own songs don’t need any inspiration from other artists.

“I can honestly say I don’t think I have any direct musical influences because I don’t want to be creatively influenced by anyone,” she says. “I’m quite inspired by film music and I’ve always envisaged my music as being more geared towards soundtracks. This is something I would really like to happen at some point.”

Darkher’s music videos are all filmed in the Yorkshire wilderness. In the video for Lament, reminiscent of Ophelia in John William Waterhouse’s painting, Wissenberg performs in a majestic blue dress, whose long trail flows towards the riverbank, the sound of running water audible over the music.

“With some of the videos, we have to use of bit of trickery these days, especially for the ones that were filmed up high in the windy parts,” she says. “However, I always play them live and on location.”

As Wissenberg continues to tempt the curiosity of both prog and metal audiences, Darkher’s debut album is sure to leave its mark as one of this year’s most bewitching and iconic post-rock releases.

Realms is out now on Prophecy. See Darkher’s Facebook page and Tumblr for details.

Isere Lloyd-Davis

Isère is an international journalist and Prog magazine contributor since 2014. With over 15 years of experience in print, online and radio journalism, Isère’s feature articles and reviews have been published in music, art, fashion, interior design and travel publications. Having interviewed over a hundred bands since her music journalist career began, Isère has a knack for discovering new talent and projecting emerging artists into the limelight. She specialises in obscure progressive music, occult rock and extreme metal, and in her spare time, Isère is mostly watching live music, visiting art galleries and learning Russian.