Brighton’s Esben And The Witch take their name from a Danish fairly tale. A Danish fairy tale all about cruelty to children and ritual slaughter, cheery stuff I think you’ll agree. Having formed in 2008, the self-released EP 33 followed in 2009, before a single for Too Pure, ‘Lucia, at the Precipice’ kicked off their 2010. Support slots for Mercury winners The XX as well as Foals, Wild Beasts and Deerhunter followed, before they became legendary label Matador Records first UK signing in over six years.
Violet Cries itself is atmospheric, haunting, eerie and in places as downright terrifying as the macabre fairy tale the band are named after. The main strength of the record is the vocals. Comparisons to Siouxsie Sioux are inevitable; Rachel Davies’ voice has the same huge presence, dominating tracks while at the same time allowing Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher’s guitars and electronics just about enough room to breathe, adding fascinating layers and textures to the tracks.
Highlights include ‘Marching Song’ which begins, as one expects with such a title, with a driving, forceful percussion led rhythm, which gradually gives way for an addictive, looping guitar riff, building speed and momentum before eventually Davies’ previously discussed vocal is given room to shine. As the song progresses, backing elements are removed and added at regular intervals, which helps accentuate just how beautiful and haunting the vocals actually are. Davies’ vocals begin another highlight, ‘Chorea’ before pulsing, glitchy electronics and a positively brilliant guitar riff are added to create a reverb-drenched and slightly terrifying masterpiece.
While lyrically pretty much every track is compelling and engrossing, occasionally musically a couple of the tracks suffer slightly. While not necessarily being bad, tracks like ‘Hexagon IV’ don’t feel particularly focused, devoid of direction it just sounds, well, a bit dull. Minor criticisms aside, Violet Cries is a rather good debut record.
However, as good as Violet Cries is, the widespread success that many are predicting for the group may very well elude them on this occasion. It’s an impressive debut record, well-constructed and engaging. But shiny, chart-friendly, accessible pop music it is not. Lyrically and musically it is a gloomy and fairly intimidating listen, but do not let this put you off. Approach with the right attitude and you will be rewarded with a genuinely interesting record, and one you may very well grow to love.
From Alex Walker.