Album Review: Esben And The Witch – Violet Cries (Matador)

Brighton’s spooked trio go medieval on your asses

The recent resuscitation of all things goth has been an American obsession, with handsome bloodsucking movie stars swaddling the mainstream and the vamped-up visages of [a]Zola Jesus[/a] et al peering from the fringes – and it’s a revival that has largely failed to take on these shores.

Sure, there was 2008’s brief flurry with Scum, O Children and co, and there are still those flocking around Whitby decked out in their [a]Siouxsie & The Banshees[/a] garb. But for the rest of us, all that gloomy pouting and posturing seems a bit passé.

Disregard what you’ve heard, then, about Brighton trio [a]Esben And The Witch[/a] being the UK’s newest vault creatures – because, crucially, they’re gothic rather than goth, and possessed of a much more beguiling aesthetic. To immerse yourself in ‘Violet Cries’ is more akin to entering a Ye Olde English fairy tale than some trashy vampire fiction, like discovering a weighty, weathered tome that lies under several thick inches of dust and recounts a distant age.

On opening track ‘Argyria’, for example (about the condition that causes the skin to take on a bluish hue after exposure to silver) singer Rachel Davies mutates into an eerie group of disembodied spirits and “metallic voices, gleaming white and breeding light”, while on ‘Light Streams’ she vows to “hunt the one that burnt out the beacon” in a voice that wavers from stern to histrionic.

There are no hackneyed pop hooks here, either – instead, the twitching electronic pulse of ‘Hexagon IV’ and overlapping whispered echoes of ‘Chorea’. But that doesn’t mean that ‘Violet Cries’ is without some more straight-up bangers as well. ‘Marching Song’, long a staple of live sets, offers a war cry that’s been left to fester on a blood-soaked battlefield for centuries, with Davies pounding a solitary tom-tom to lead the way into some doomed crusade.

Yet it’s a metaphysical conflict, too, as love and war become criss-crossed (“Your veins are my trenches”) and lust mingles with violence (“The mud is thick with desire”). ‘Eumenides’, meanwhile, is twice as long, but no less arresting. Soft, almost choral openings interchange with rumbling thunder before culminating in Davies yelling: “Silver bullets! For sinners’ hearts!”

No doubt there’ll be some impatient souls who clamour for more tunes with immediate impact (especially since singles ‘Skeleton Swoon’ and ‘Lucia, At The Precipice’ were deemed superfluous), but demanding such fare from ‘Violet Cries’ would be like asking Gordon Ramsay to serve you up some beans on toast: there’s a far richer and more refined set of treats on display here than any of the band’s contemporaries could rustle up. [a]Esben And The Witch[/a], then: gothic, not goth, and making the latter seem like just another four-letter word.

Ben Hewitt

  • Related Topics
  • .