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Esben and the Witch Violet Cries Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An essential companion for many sombre souls in 2011 and beyond.

John Doran 2011

Despite long ago casting aside its callow youth for a three-decade maturity, goth is still the most routinely mocked of all genres. It is defiantly theatrical: in both music, language and image, dealing with very potent subject matter. However, like any genre with isolationist tendencies, it gains its essential power from the very traits that make it seem confusing, repellent or risible to others.

Yet goth, while not quite as popular as it was in the mid-80s, is still undergoing a healthy purple patch, with its influence on other forms stronger than ever. Its spidery tendrils are all over emo and much mainstream metal, as well recently reinvigorated EBM and minimal electronics scenes. Perhaps the strangest thing is how its uniform has been co-opted by a clutch of so-called hipster bands. The entire aesthetic is essential to witch house outfits such as Salem and Gatekeeper. So it is ironically strange and refreshing to hear a group as seemingly old-school goth as Esben and the Witch, a three-piece from Brighton whose velvet hearts, red wine-stained lips and porcelain-white skin seem to exist in the darkest shadows of tribal post punk.

Violet Cries is an excitingly austere and irony-free album, one that is much more Siouxsie and the Banshees than My Chemical Romance or White Ring. It’s perhaps inevitable that EATW vocalist Rachel Davies will draw comparisons to the grand doyenne of funereal rock, Siouxsie Sioux, given her crystal intonation and massive presence, and the band (also featuring Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher on guitars and electronics) ostensibly follows a similar path. But multiple listens throw up an understated and subtle modernity on tracks such as Chorea, which adds some smart drum programming to mirror its lyrics – “The feet start to beat strange tattoos on the street” – before a warmly twanging rock guitar kicks in and the vocals intertwine in a nightmarish whirlpool of dub and echo. This is no museum piece: it is like a darker-hued cousin of The xx rather than some pastiche of The Cure or Sisters of Mercy.

From the dream-like artwork to the sepulchral production, everything about this album says Serious with a capital S and Quality with a capital Q. This effectively does much to create distance between itself and the fashion goth scene of east London. As such it is an album that gives up its charms slowly, but its painstaking attention to detail, dark shadows and languid depths will see it become an essential companion for many sombre souls in 2011 and beyond.

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