Brainy Brighton trio prove they’re both big and clever
Even the most depraved souls fantasise about wiping away transgressions with holy water, but some blemishes can’t be removed with a brush and soap. And as far as some thick-skulled zealots are concerned, Brighton trio Esben And The Witch come branded with a ‘WARNING – BRAINY BUNCH’ tattoo. They’re guilty of being a bit too clever-clever, and raising hackles among those who see cerebral cock-waggling as something to ward off with crucifixes and garlic.
All of which, of course, is utter rot. Esben’s lofty influences only make their gothic brew bubble all the more bewitchingly – and on ‘Wash The Sins…’, swotting and strutting go hand in hand. The charms of yore remain but now there’s a swaggering, full-blooded immediacy: ‘Slow Wave’ is a skittering, balmy brood, while ‘Deathwaltz’ is a sweetly sinister plea for redemption, all skin-prickling guitars and Rachel Davies’ resigned sighs.
Unlike 2011’s ‘Hexagons’ EP, there’s no danger of becoming lost in a blustery netherworld of foggy soundscapes with no choruses. Instead, there’s dark arts aplenty on ‘Despair’, but it’s all distilled into a splendid voodoo blitz of lust, violence and fragmented electronics. In contrast, ‘The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain’ is a thing of condensed-breath beauty. Somewhere in between lies epic swansong ‘Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night’, ghoulish apparitions of regret flickering amid glitch-ridden swells of cacophonous noise as Rachel coldly repeats the title and clings to it like a mantra.
Call it highbrow, call it highfalutin, but with ‘Wash The Sins…’, Esben are carving hulking tablets of stone boasting that intellect is nothing to be scared of. No amount of splashing can scrub that out.