Esben and the Witch
Wash the Sins Not Only the Face
Jan 22, 2013 Issue #44 - Best of 2012 - Grimes
Esben and the Witch's goth rock billing seemed a bit ill-fitting; their debut had the gloomy atmosphere down pat, but it lacked the pomp and theatricality inherent in so much of the genre's best. Its songs meandered on for too long; elements that should have conveyed suffering only came off as sulking. There was a sense that the band knew what it wanted, but wasn't exactly sure how to achieve it. Wash the Sins Not Only the Face sees this U.K. trio mature and finally deliver on so much of the promise they showed early on.
Most importantly, Esben and the Witch have put more energy into the songwriting for their sophomore LP. These tracks have focus and build; there's a sense of scope that Violet Cries thoroughly lacked. "Iceland Spar" blasts open with a dense clamor; Rachel Davies' spectral vocals are punctuated and given some much-needed weight by a meatier instrumental accompaniment. "When the Head Splits" is equally propelled by her voice and anxiously plucked chords, but neither is forced to carry the song's high drama on its own. The first album's bleak atmosphere is still here, particularly in murkier numbers such as "Shimmering" and "Despair"-even that title is dark-but the band is no longer setting the scene at the cost of song composition.
Where Violet Cries lacked a focal point, Wash the Sins is full of purpose. The entire album's fraught ambience builds to one majestic finale: "Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night," the seven-and-a-half minute closer, slowly burns and swells to a Grand Guignol crescendo. All of the tension built across the album comes to a head in a bursting, operatic release; yes, this is how you close a record. A step up for this young band, indeed.
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 8/10