Esben And The Witch - Wash The Sins Not Only The Face

Definitely ominous and creepy sounding, without it ever being a gruelling listening-experience.

Label: Matador

Rating: 7

‘Esben And The Witch’ is a Danish fairy tale about a young boy who uses stealth and cunning to out-smart an evil old crone. As with all Scandinavian kids’ stories it’s dark, violent, and totally unsuitable for its target audience. Esben And The Witch, the band that take their name from that story, “think a lot of people think that [they] are better educated about fairytales and more enamoured than [they] actually are.”

So why mention it? Because old folk tales are proper weird. Also, because the band evoke the same sort of otherworldly, spooky feel as said tales, but through the medium of ethereal, noisy rock music. Their first album, ‘Violet Cries’, was mostly mentioned in the same breath as eighties hairspray enthusiasts such as The Cure and Sisters Of Mercy but, thankfully, for the environmentally minded, the follow-up is a lot less concerned with Goth grave robbing.

Opening with the ear-splitting, dripping-in-distortion ‘Iceland Spar’ (Goths never had a sense of humour; there’s your first clue something’s changed), ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ strikes out on its own to conjure up the similar haunted ruins, shower of bats capital-G Gothic that the old small-g goths did with theatrics and black-and-white horror film organs – but does it differently, and does it better.

There’s the disorientating quiet-loud dynamics of that first track, the intermittent high-pitched keys phasing in and out of the studio on ‘Slow Wave’, the guitars that genuinely sound like piercing shrieks on ‘Despair’, the juddering synth line that fades between speakers like a restless spirit on the penultimate ‘The Fall Of Gloreita Mountain’. Throughout the record, the drumming is tribal, primal; the guitars are never without any number of unnatural effects; and Rachel Davies’ voice manages a less put-on, but no less potent, drama than Siousixe Sioux – or even a certain Ms Welch she’s forever being compared to.

It’s enough to pique the interest of Derek Acorah and his cronies. Bathed in a sort of auditory night vision, ‘Wash The Sins…’ is definitely ominous and creepy sounding, without it ever being a gruelling listening-experience. We’d be remiss to suggest that, since it’s quite the opposite – Esben And The Witch’s second LP is a thrilling, goosebump-raising collection of songs that will be in heavy rotation for the rest of the year (and beyond).