Esben and the Witch's debut album, Violet Cries, has such a perfectly goth title that it’s something of a surprise that it wasn’t claimed decades ago. Likewise, the band’s brooding sound bears the dark-eyed influences of Siouxsie Sioux and Miranda Sex Garden, as well as contemporaries like Effi Briest and Zola Jesus. Esben and the Witch were nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2011 just before Violet Cries was released, and it’s easy to hear why: even when they don’t do anything remarkably new with their ethereal style, they imbue it with a tremendous amount of passion. Nearly all of their songs come swooping in on chilly, swirling guitars and Rachel Davies' feverish vocals. Much of Violet Cries' success is due to her tremulous yet throaty voice, which is fragile enough for dream pop, but also possesses a howl that brings heat to her frosty surroundings. The album’s best moments connect with an intensity that few of their contemporaries can match: “Marching Song,” which was the title track of the band’s 2010 EP, is still a sumptuous calling card for the band, with layers of Davies' vocals swarming over intricate rhythms like a murder of crows, while “Warpath” continues the martial motif. “Light Streams” showcases Esben and the Witch’s impressive use of dynamics and space, sounding massive one moment and as intimate as a whisper the next; “Marine Fields Glow,” with its delicately dark guitars, lives up to the fairy tale eeriness of the band’s name, evoking the truly Grimm tales where children are eaten instead of living happily ever after. While there are a few moments where Violet Cries' potent atmosphere turns meandering and atonal, this is still a promising and often captivating debut from a band with a bold sound.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares