Esben and the Witch - Violet Cries - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Esben and the Witch - Violet Cries

by Rich Morris Rating:1 Release Date:2011-01-31

Goth, so the pop culture history books tell us, emerged as an off-shoot of post-punk, rejecting the latter's voguish drabness for flights of fancy influenced by Grimm's fairy tales, HP Lovecraft, Shelley, Poe, the pagan rites fetish of Jim Morrison and the gender bending of glam. How this most feminised and inward-looking of genres became wedded to that knuckle-dragging, woman-objectifying bog-man called metal is a strange and muddled tale, yet wed they did, joining together inexorably, in the kind of eternal, mutually enervating embrace which would make quite a good subject for a goth-metal song.

I'm being unkind; some goth metal is actually very fun as long as you don't take it seriously. But the genre is something of a cultural cul-de-sac and perhaps this explains why there's been a concerted attempt over the last few years to take goth back from the bog-men, reclaiming and restyling it as something cool and cutting-edge. First The Horrors made hanging out at the graveyard with your bat's nest hair in your face a hipster pastime for the first time since 1982, and then a genre called witch house surfaced to shake its undead booty in a way which was almost - almost - quite sexy.

Esben and the Witch's debut album is a bit witch house, but it's definitely not sexy. Well, unless you find disembodied wails and rattling chains sexy, in which case, congratulations, you're a proper goth. Violet Cries never sullies it's bewitchingly pasty-white skin with anything as gauche as 'sexy', or even 'fun' for that matter. The Brighton-based three-piece have delivered a work crushingly free of lightness or humour, a sombre, depressed, none-more-black, supersonic sulk of an album on which Siouxsie Sioux wannabe Rachel Davies frequently abandons singing altogether in favour of just having an extended, formless moan.

There seems little point in singling out individual tracks for criticism. This is an album with precisely one setting, one pace, one tonality which it hammers home relentlessly and monotonously. However, that doesn't mean Violet Cries doesn't have some good moments, but they are exactly that - moments, fleeting bits of melodic invention or ambient subtlety which emerge blinking and fragile, as if astonished at their own existence, before being swamped and suffocated by a mudslide of murky, mithering mirthlessness.

It's also really hard to work out who would enjoy listening to this album, or even play it more than once. Genuine depressives do not listen to music like this. They learn to protect themselves from such trivial, facile works of darkness. Which leaves teenagers, for decades the traditional demographic for anything this debilitatingly mopey and shallow. But if you were a misanthropic teen looking for a soundtrack to your poor-me, quasi-existential musings, you'd probably also want something you could do a bit of head-banging to. You know, something you can stick on when you have mates round to sneakily drink mum's gin and smoke industrial strength skunk.

So, even by its own superficial standards, Violet Cries fails. It also, to be brutally honest, fails as music. Every track - literally, every single track - starts off dreamy but moody before building up into something quite loud and atonal and then collapsing in on itself with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Every track. And there are ten tracks on this album. And three of them push past the five minute mark. Which is just shit.

Bottom line, if you're really that unhappy and you want something to reflect your mood, go and buy The Manics' Holy Bible and Joy Division's Closer and book a course of CBT. If you're not really that miserable but think acting like you are makes you more attractive, buy The Cure's early albums and start perfecting that smudged lippy look. If you're a teenager who hates mum and dad but gets enough pocket money to spend on music, buy something brilliant and fun like a Blondie best of, get over yourself and start getting out more.

On no account buy Violet Cries by Esben and the Witch. It's just a cack-handed approximation of what good dark music should be, made by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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