|Esben and the Witch
||28 January 2011
||Gothic rock, electronic
Esben and the Witch, a Brighton trio with an ever increasing reputation aided no less by having signed to major label Matador, have produced their debut album Violet Cries under immense pressure.
With obvious comparisons to ‘80s stalwarts, Cocteau Twins and to a lesser extent, Dead Can Dance, EatW have been compartmentalized within the dreaded goth rock cliché. Dreaded for the most often false assertions associated with the early purveyors of soft gothic inspired rock, a constant gloom and monotony hugging typically lost-love ballads.
However, as with a plethora of modern ‘80s revivalists (Neon Indian, Twin Shadow etc.), EatW have put their own unique turn on Violet Cries with subtle, pulsing electronic beats, beautiful riffs and of course the haunting, ethereal vocal delivery of Rachel Davies very much akin to the late Trish Keenan of dreamy electronica band Broadcast.
Still, pace is clearly the trick on this album. From the intro 'Argyria's slow burning first two minutes of simple riffs and repetitive beat, into a rapid evolution of Mogwai like proportions, heavy guitars, natural yet colossal beats, interesting scratched-CD-like sounds and all drowning out Rachel Davies suitable wailing. An even more rapid reversion (and unexpected one) to the original riff accompanied by lone vocals underlines the technical approach of the band. A beautiful start.
A simpler approach is taken with the next two tracks, lead single 'Marching Song' and 'Marine Fields Glow', both employing a more linear structure with repetitive riffs flowing alongside echoed vocal delivery and relatively simple beats. Although both songs are quite similar, the latter triumphs owing itself to the albums best vocal performance and its exquisite dense backdrop.
After the disappointing and dreary 'Light Streams', probably the weakest track on the album comes 'Hexagons Iv', the albums best track. Robin Guthrie like in its production, its mysterious rhythmic opening and electronics, sounding halfway between Autechre and Cocteau Twins makes for an unseemly but charming combination. The constant crashing of cymbals, Davies exhaustive delivery as well as the male vocal effects suit the songs almost lacklustre (if that can be a good thing) approach. As with 'Argyria', the trance like finish makes for perfect late night accompaniment.
'Chorea' proves a frustrating track. From a promising start with as usual wonderful string support, to the sudden manic vocals overcrowding what can only be described as noise, all within a constant change in tempo, becomes frustrating and the song proves in total a messy affair and a skippable one, possibly a result of too much work?
The following two tracks 'Warpath' and 'Battlecry/Mimicry' unfortunately continue the rather steady decline into unwanted repetitive territory. Although the latter may not necessarily be regarded accurately as an album track, 'Warpath' adds nothing to the album as a whole but only punches holes in the bands by now samey approach to creating haunting soundscapes and it pales in comparison to the albums previous highlights. It also proves a limit to Davies vocal abilities.
Thankfully, the band regain previous atmospherics on the remaining two tracks. 'Eumenides', the longest track at over six minutes proves an interesting sonic approach with what seems like over ten musical components combined into one. Although this sounds disturbing and it can be, it works wonderfully with each component rolling into one in perfect synchronicity. 'Swans' is a gorgeous finish to the album, full to the brim with misery and well judged vocals, down trodden keys and funeral strings that allow you to get your breath back after the preceding chaos. An impressive debut.
- Conor Hynds