Review : Esben and the Witch - Hexagons EP
PitchforkFrom their onset, the Brighton-based Esben and the Witch have excelled at the aesthetic component of recent goth-leaning music. Of the many emerging dark, female-fronted acts, they've got some of the slickest packaging, complete with a name derived from a grisly Danish fairy tale and a list of "Band Interests" on Facebook that concludes with, "Victoriana, Romance, Ghosts." The follow-up to their debut full-length, Violet Cries-- a new EP called Hexagons-- takes their curative framework a step further-- it's a concept piece made up of six Roman-numerically ordered "Hexagons" with dramatic parentheticals: "Hexagons I (The Fall)", "Hexagons II (The Flight)", et cetera. Its release also coincided with a week-long webcast event called "Hexagons Cinema", in which the band streamed a series of footage shot in the UK's oldest functioning cinema. At the very least, Esben have shown themselves fine scholars of textbook aspects of spook. But much like on Violet Cries, all of Hexagons' thoughtful ornamentation only emphasizes how frustratingly plotless the songs are.
These songs are sparer than much of the material from Violet Cries, often centered around dramatic piano lines and bare acoustic guitar sheathed in haunting echoes. The bookending tracks, "Hexagons I (The Fall)" and "Hexagons VI (The Thaw)", aren't even so much songs as they are brief, ambient reminders of the grim mood the trio wants you to experience but seems incapable of fleshing out. By comparison, "Hexagons II (The Flight)" and "Hexagons III (The Surge)" sound tightly structured and concussive. But they still fall flat: The latter, for instance, hints at the band's promising post-rock tendencies by building a thick, apocalyptic guitar line, but before it's allowed to peak and crash, it peters out and devolves into more thin, aimless piano. None of these cuts reach the guttural fullness of Violet Cries cuts "Marching Song" or "Warpath", two strong tracks that probably should have been used as templates for Esben's future recordings. Instead, they instilled listeners with what now feels like false hope. In the absence of compelling cores, these songs are carried, sometimes solely, by frontwoman Rachel Davies' strong and brooding British-accented vocals....full text
ContactmusicOnce upon a time when asked in an interview whether or not Esben And The Witch had any limits, Multi-faceted musical virtuoso Tom Fisher claimed, "I don't think we should indulge ourselves.I would be too disappointed to return to reality." Make of that you what you will but for a band that's barely been in existence two years, the Brighton-based three-piece have already exceeded many people's expectations such is the haunting attention to detail and intricate nature of their recorded output to date.
For a band that seem to have been unfortunately tagged with the moniker "new Goth" whatever that's supposed to mean, they're a far more curious proposition than merely retreading old paths laid out around London's Batcave venue thirty years ago. A mesmerising entity in the flesh, debut long player 'Violet Cries' further illustrated Esben And The Witch as a complex, unconventional outfit operating outside of any pre-designed genre defined box.
Furthermore, their awkward and uncompromising style probably owes more to the prototype industrial sounds of Diamanda Galas or Xymox than any pre-ordained notion of black clad youths clutching the works of Brad Stoker in one hand and a crucifix in the other.
Nevertheless, be it coincidentally or otherwise, their latest release has a timely air about it, coming precisely seven days after Halloween. However, what's more striking about the 'Hexagons' EP is the audacious way Esben And The Witch allow each of the six pieces contained within to build up gradually like a mini-epic television drama. Although based on 'Hexagons IV', the brooding bass-heavy midpoint of 'Violet Cries' dramatic collection of mood swings, its stripped down beauty to a simplistic piano ballad amidst a halo of crashing percussion works implicitly here, not least in the way Rachael Davies ethereal vocal rises out of the ether to its forefront.
Prior to that, 'Hexagons I (The Fall)' - each piece here has its own subtitle befitting of its status on the record - introduces the EP with a gentle acoustic strum, Davies' voice not too dissimilar to that of All About Eve's Julianne Regan. The looped guitars omnipresent throughout 'Hexigons II (The Flight)' create an atmosphere suited to a hypnotic lullaby, Davies mostly illegible lyrics reaching operatic levels by its climax.
'Hexagons III (The Surge)' enhances the band's panache for creating music with a thought-provoking intensity, again using layered vocal effects to bolster the wall of sound Fisher and fellow musical accomplice Daniel Copeman orchestrate magnificently throughout. The aforementioned 'Hexagons IV (The Still)' following suit, the score-like ambivalence of 'Hexagons V (The Cast)' brings up the rear before the instrumental-only finale, 'Hexagons VI (The Thaw)', brings proceedings to a subtle close....full text
TreblezineAt the center of Violet Cries, the debut album by UK goth-gazers Esben and the Witch, a song titled "Hexagons IV" stirred up a disorienting blur of psychedelic textures and post-punk doom. Simultaneously one of the more accessible tracks on the album as well as one of its strangest, it represented the best of the band's strengths, namely their talent for funneling uneasy, even ugly sounds through oddly alluring vessels. The band's new EP, Hexagons, features six tracks that bear the name "Hexagons," numbered I through VI, though the "Hexagons IV" that appears here is very much a different song, driven by ominous piano chords rather than trippy guitar riffs and tribal drums. And yet, the effect is largely the same - harrowing, spooky sounds conveyed through a curiously compelling melody.
In the 20 minutes that comprise Hexagons, Esben and the Witch dive further into the atmospheric side of their dark post-punk approach, tapping into a deeply eerie feeling that may have missed Halloween by a week, but maintains a spectral feeling all the same. Acoustic instruments play a larger part on this EP, as displayed on "Hexagons I," which is built on a delicate interplay between piano and guitar, and Rachel Davies' chillingly sweet vocals. There's a similarly elegant quality to the beautifully hypnotic "Hexagons II," yet it benefits from the addition of programmed drums, giving it an extra boost of structured immediacy. Overall Hexagons is a more nuanced effort, but that allows their songwriting to shine even brighter, and it's never sounded better than it does on "Hexagons V," a dense, dream pop hymn that does nothing to abandon their otherworldly charm, but succeeds in lending it some extra grace....full text
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