9/10• Iceland Spar
• Slow Wave
• When That Head Splits
• Yellow Wood
• Putting Down The Prey
• The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain
• Smashed To Pieces In The
Still Of The Night This second album from Brighton trio Esben & The Witch had a fair amount to live up to after their “wonderfully morbid and intoxicating” debut two years ago, but any fears of the cauldron going off the boil prove to be unfounded. Wash The Sins Not Only The Face – a title derived from a Greek palindrome found on numerous baptismal fonts throughout Europe – sees the band not only consolidating on many of the strengths that won them such acclaim the first time around, but also – at some points – transcending their earlier heights.
Wash The Sins… is an album of drama, mood and mystery. Songs often start in sombre fashion then build to dramatic, even epic heights. Dynamics move from quiet to loud, from slow and stately to furiously paced frequently within a single track – most notably on the melancholy, deathly waltz of the aptly titled ‘Deathwaltz’. The atmosphere, too, can quickly change. The drowsy, soporific ‘Slow Wave’ gives way to a creeping unease (see: ‘Shimmering’, ‘Yellow Wood’) that breaks so dramatically in the visceral wail of distress (“wail of sound”?) of ‘Putting Down The Prey’, culminating in the stark violence evoked by the closer, vocalist Rachel Davies intoning “Smashed to pieces in the still of the night” again and again, detached yet affecting as cymbals crash and synths buzz in a thick fog around her.
If all this creates a sense of disorientation, of never quite knowing where you are with the band, or with the album, then this is undoubtedly intended. A Grimms’ Tales-alike story of being lost in a forest where unspecified, yet probably not very pleasant, events transpire, ‘Yellow Wood’ serves as an apt metaphor for the unsettling feeling that runs throughout the album. Add in clues gleaned elsewhere – the tense horror of ‘Deathwaltz’ (“I’ll wash you away with all of my sins”), the sacrificial ordeal of ‘When That Head Splits’ (“kneeling naked at the altar”) – and it might be enough to give you nightmares for a month.
Tracks like ‘Deathwaltz’ also impress with the conviction (and often ire) of the musicianship on display, the shreddy ebb and flow quite something to witness. ‘Despair’ is another standout with its curiously scratchy and abrasive guitar and synth noises combining with Davies’ dour vocal to bleakly invigorating effect. Suffice to say, this is an album best avoided if you like your music to come with easy answers, neat themes, coherent moods and a sunny outlook. If, on the other hand, you enjoy being confronted, challenged, sometimes puzzled and quite often slightly frightened, then you should definitely seek it out. Joyful it isn’t; resonant, profound and ultimately satisfying it undoubtedly is.
Tagged esben and the witch