Esben And The Witch Violet Cries(Matador ) Buy it from Insound
If the Goth groups of the 1980s inhabited a barren, T.S. Eliot-inspired wasteland, then today that same wilderness is overpopulated by like-minded bands, each one acting-out their own tableau of isolation and angst while studiously ignoring the neighbours. Goth, which in it purest form has shown a dogmatic reluctance to expand beyond a narrow vocabulary and pool of imagery, has long been in danger of becoming heritage music, in the same way that The Blues never really escaped the killing floors and endless gripes about life’s aches and pains. If you’ve been raised on The Cure, Killing Joke, The Mission, and the other less chart-troubling black-clad legions of doom, then it’s hard to listen Violet Cries without mentally checking-off the clichés - wildernesses, fogs, laments, swans, darkness, silver bullets, song titles that read like a part of an inscription you might find carved into the plinth of a statue in some Mediterranean ruins...
Tucked away on the album there is some very rich and beautiful imagery. The closing elegy - Swans – offers a lake as “black as ostrich plumes” and the hands of a grandfather clock which have “settled on high noon.” It’s this song that shows up many of the band’s narrative excesses – a lack of subtlety in the lyrics which often feel contrived and overly dramatic, as if the writer instinctively reached for the most complicated word in the thesaurus, or the most pretentious turn of phrase.
Many of the tracks here are sonic collages that exist in a permanent liquefied state. Marine Fields Glow, with its overlapping vocals, seems on the verge of dissolving into a fine vapour and is too undeveloped to be anything other than bridge between a pair of more substantial compositions.
Where songs do show more solidity, their structure often disappoints. Argyria slowly builds into a churning squall of shamanic guitar that abruptly disperses a few seconds short of a climax, as if brought down by the deadweight of the dirge that follows. A couple of tracks later, Hexagons IV collapses in a depressingly similar manner. It is only Eumenides - which blossoms from a lovely hymnal opening – that feels as if it has been taken as far as it can.
This is an album containing moments of fleeting beauty rather than great songs. The sheer cliffs of sound that open Marching Song are like a revisited landmark from The Horrors last record. A marvellous skittish little beat vibrates in the background of the simmering Chorea. On Light Streams, ticking needle-point guitar counts the seconds over concussive blasts of cymbal.
Esben And The Witch often sound like a band trying too hard to live up to an image; it’s difficult to shake-off the suspicion that behind the metaphorical layers of costume, artifice and unquestionable ability, lies an empty dressing-up box and a few well-thumbed books of 17th century romantic poetry. Violet Cries is the kind of album that will find a niche audience who will it defend fiercely. Broader appeal is unlikely for songs that seem so blurred around the edges and on the point of evaporating.20 March, 2011 - 21:55 — Sam Redlark