[sic] Magazine

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

Despite its direct translation from a Greek palindrome, there’s something slightly clunky about that album title and it’s not the only problem needing mention here, for there’s been something mildly amiss throughout the majority of the small Esben And The Witch catalogue to date.

As dark and claustrophobic as their debut LP Violet Cries was, for example, it only truly seemed to come alive on stage where, amongst other things, those monolithic hand-drums served as a sombre rallying cry to the cold at heart. On record, for the most part, these same sounds simply arrived, swirled around and left as a mysterious whole with few glimpses as to an underbelly and with fewer still lasting impressions.

Wash The Sins Not Only The Face is thus a more approachable recording, one built less around oppressive aesthetics and more around Rachel Davies ‘s fine vocal. There are however plusses and minuses to this approach. Though more intimate – and here arguably creepier – exposed song-craft requires songs and this is where Wash The Sins Not Only The Face partially falls down.

First things first, though friendlier than its predecessor, this is no singles album despite it being more than possible to coerce such material out stark ballads, chilly pop and generally Gothic manoeuvres. Probably plumping for the up-tempo “Deathwaltz” from a lack of choice then, its lengthy closing instrumental isn’t nearly as face-meltingly interesting as its title promises and whilst its brief and noisy counterpart “Despair” is better it also lacks identity. Perhaps not commercially painting itself in the best light therefore, it’s a pleasant surprise then to find moments of less showy beauty in the album’s shadows.

The haunting ballad “Putting Down The Prey” is reminiscent of Exitmusic -style post-rock/dream-pop, its low-end bass echoes a deft touch and Davies’s enchanting vocal entirely befitting for a band named after a fairy tale. With the lightest of fingerprints, “The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain” is little more than the wholly dignified Davies supported by meditative guitar work and a creeping dither of synth with ideas of orchestral strings. Where this minimal template is less successful however we are left only with snippets of barely-there sad-wave, tiptoeing guitar and indistinct fades that even lovely layering of Davies’s floatiest vocal cannot inspire into more.

Bookending this collection of dark ethereality/insubstantiality are the LP’s two most violent statements. “Iceland Spar” erupts with elemental columns of searing black ash between quieter structures and the impressive closer “Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night” uses similarly epic crashes to build up to its own explosion with forty seconds to go.

There’s little doubt of these two’s on-stage potential, but Wash The Sins Not Only The Face is not purely written to thrill. It’s as introspective as it is primal, as broad-reaching as it is limited. Furthermore, it’s also a very solid sophomore release, but one which lacks either sufficient tears or grit to really set it apart. Here’s hoping that away from the confines of professional mastering the live show again proves a different story.

Advised downloads: “Putting Down The Prey” and “Iceland Spar”

~ Wash The Sins Not Just The Face is released January 21st 2013 on Beggars Banquet .~


Esben And The Witch @ myspace