Esben And The Witch
Sound and Vision Festival
Norwich Arts Centre
September 30th 2011
Esben And The Witch are one of those bands that don’t fit in anywhere and that’s their genius.
Of course there is a neo Goth atmosphere shrouding them like some kind of mist, a touch of the In The Nursery end of industrial- that intelligence and emotional intensity, maybe a gothic olde English fairytale about them- shrouded in mist and oak and strange tales…but it’s impossible to pin them down. Just when you think you have recognised their drum machine copping its heavy bass drum patterns from Suicide at their most psychotic then they have gone somewhere else.
What we do know is that there are three of them and they come from Brighton, their debut ‘Violet Cries’ album was an impressively intense and dark collection of songs and that lead singer Rachel Davies has a crystal clear voice that cuts through the perfect shrapnel gloom of their backing. She sounds like an intense version of Bjork as her voice soars over Daniel Copeman’s flailing limbed guitar noise and Thomas Fisher’s picked out six string passages.
They have soaked up a lot of that post punk, proto goth early eighties weirdness, there is the sense of the dramatics of the Chameleons, the wall of sound of the Cocteau Twins, and even the sombre tidal wave of sound of bands like the March Violets who they must be way too young to have heard of. There are sections of pure, beautiful noise, droning feedback, demonic arpreggios switching to ice queen vocals and sections of blissful neo-Gothic beauty that the wonderful Siouxsie Sioux would have been proud of.
Goth has become such a dirty word that it’s an obvious place for any free thinking musician to tap into. There was some extraordinary music in the genre that was as ground breaking and experimental as the post punk scene but seems to have been written out of history. Whether Esben And The Witch tap into this either by chance or design matters little, it’s refreshing to see a band playing with this experimental genre once more, finding new nuances and spaces in a needlessly ignored space.
Of course Esben And The Witch are not a goth band, they just operate in the same experimental vein as the best bands from that period and they have an interest in the dark side. Every time Daniel hits a crescendo with his guitar he is a sonic whirling Dervish lost in the sheer joy of the release of the music. When they all start hitting the tom toms at the front of the stage it’s like one of those industrial bands toying with the notion of just what you do in a band, the drum itself is part theatre, part release.
None of this would matter if they didn’t have the songs to back it up but with their set stuffed full of great dramatic, swooping songs that easily transcend their cult status Esben And The Witch could be challenging the like of PJ Harvey to the kooky new dark crown. they certainly have the songs but with their aural intensity are locked into a more underground trajectory.
Esben And the Witch are on their own trip. There is a lot of dry ice in the room but the bands Grimm’s Fairy tale music creates its own atmosphere that is quite stunning and convincingly dark in a powerfully mystical way. They have the intensity of post punk experiMENTALISTS and the darkness of true Goth.