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Album review

Esben and the Witch

It may not be a genre that sits at the edge of everybody’s tongue but Gothic rock is more popular than first thought. Along with its various sub genres including protogoth, the medium is a style of music that has been kicking around since the late 1970s.

With the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Joy Division branding themselves in this category at some point in their careers, the world of Gothic rock suddenly becomes much more accessible and altogether well known. More recently, bands such as The Horrors and Esben and the Witch have been championing the cause for those art-house, post punk rockers.

With their latest release, Wash the Sins Not Only the Face, Esben and the Witch deliver their first full album since 2011’s Violet Cries. Released almost two years to the date, a factor that is sure to be deliberate, the new album packs the punch of ten fully fleshed out tracks that drip in as much gothic style as Mary Shelly’s curtains.

This is moody, maudlin and above all atmospheric stuff. Three piece Esben and the Witch are musicians with an indefatigable knack for their own musings and style. Echoing harmonics and a resonance that appears to be set permanently to “On” mode, this is an album that seems to pride itself in being, well, itself.

Opener ‘Iceland Spar’ sets the tempo and mood nicely. An wonderfully haunting song, the dynamic between sparse vocals and thrashing percussion and bombastic scale add to sense of unease and temperament of the subject matter. Mirrored on ‘When The Head Splits’ and ‘DeathWaltz’, a suitably gloomy and gruesome title that even Rob Zombie might think twice about, this ethereal sense of something missing is aptly pulled off by the trio from Brighton.

Not necessarily all doom and gloom there is moments that skirt on the vaguely positive. One highlight being ‘Slow Wave’, which feel positively airy, dare it be said, happy by comparison to its dark brothers and sisters. It would not feel out of place on a Siouxsie album or very, very early Joy Division.

The roots of this music may be firmly found in the cultural and creative hotbed of the 70s and 80s but this band, and in particular Wash the Sins Not Only the Face are very much a product of the 2010s. With the world still reeling from the mass effects of the Twilight “saga” and its numerous copycats and bandwagon hangers-on.

There is more than coincidence at work here that gothic rock has grown in popularity in recent years. In a world steeped in mass media, the resurgence of a well-known style of art is bound to transgress mediums. The result has been an unexpected boost in popularity for bands like Esben and the Witch, one that they appear to be thriving in and, hopefully, taking full advantage.

By Jonathan Whitelaw

Jonathan Whitelaw writes about music because he isn't good at playing it. For his musings and book plugs follow him on twitter: @JDWhitelaw13

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