Esben and The Witch – Wash The Sins Not Only The Face (album) (Matador Records)

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‘Wash The Suns Not Only The Face’ is the sophomore album from Brighton goth trio Esben and The Witch and its January 21 release is almost two years to the day since the release of their first album ‘Violet Cries’.

The debut album spawned the terrifying “Marching Song“with vocal hooks that summoned Siouxsie and the Banshees at their darkest, most ferocious, and bewitching (complete with an equally menacing video). Aside from the aforementioned single however, the album itself focused more on sonic experiments in noise and atmospherics than in form or composition, rendering much of it indistinguishable.

On ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’, Esben and The Witch ease up on the noise and in its place is newfound melody, songsmarts, as well as delicate new textures making their sophomore not only more cohesive and memorable but truly mesmerising.

Using a sonic template that incorporates atmospherics, clean-tone melodic guitars, heavy percussion, and angelic vocal melodies, their sound gives a nod to early Cocteau Twins. More accurately though, the band’s new refined sound and songwriting shares similar exploratory and sonic properties to that of Warpaint.

Right from the get go, “Iceland Spar” introduces a rock-y side to the band not heard on their debut. A driving beat with crashing cymbals pairs with a melodic guitar line that sits on top of a bed of thick distortion. The noise gives way to allow Rachel Davies’ heavily reverberated and witchy vocals to colour the song before “Iceland Spar” continues its to-and-fro between noise and grace.

“Slow Wave” too sees the band introducing yet more texture and melody than ever before. Delayed, melodic guitars combine with dreamy vocals and the song is propelled forward by a danceable drum shuffle. Similarly, the brilliant “When That Head Splits” is riddled with melody sounding like Florence and The Machine at her most bewitched crossed with the aforementioned Warpaint.

Though still featuring all of the band’s characteristics, the album’s first single “Deathwaltz” is the most “pop” we’ve heard the trio date; a beautiful up-tempo number with heartfelt, angelic vocal hooks that sends waves of nostalgia.

Overall, ‘Wash The Sins…’ is majestic and sublime, none more evident than the gorgeous and moving “The Fall of Glorietta Mountain”. However, the album is not without fury. “Despair” is a total attack on the senses; a furious, full throttle number with the band’s punishing trademark noise at the forefront.

Album closer, “Smashed To Pieces In The Still of The Night” is truly mesmerising and like the entire album itself takes the listener on an entrancing journey.

A huge part of the band’s appeal is of course their mystique. Their aesthetic and storytelling is intriguing and compelling. On ‘Wash The Sins…’, Rachel Davies takes over as the sole lyricist and as the press release states her words “are inspired by T.S. Eliot,  Sylvia Plath, the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Salvador Dali and the surrealist movement; that, and van conversations questioning what it would be like to meet your doppelganger thousands of miles from home”.

A wonderfully mysterious, complex, and rewarding record, ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’  is one album that needs and deserves multiple spins to fully absorb.

‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ was released today, 21 January, 2013.

Watch the video for “Death Waltz” below:

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