Wash the Sins Not Only the Face could easily be 47 minutes of doom and gloom, considering its gothic roots, but the journey crafted by Esben and the Witch is an illuminated one. Naturally, the flashes of brightness are a deception, leading the listener down an even darker path. On “Deathwaltz”, for example, an air of mystery surrounds Rachel Davies’ radiant delivery, as foreboding guitar lines crescendo towards an unnerving fadeout. Getting lost rarely sounds this enticing.
“Deathwaltz” is actually the closest thing to a single ear-worm on Wash the Sins. Instead, it’s an album that demands to be taken all at once. Drummer Daniel Cope’s primal onslaught on “When the Head Splits” hits even harder following the unwavering Liz Fraser-gone-post-rock chill of “Slow Wave”. “Putting Down the Prey” may be a hushed lament compared to the rapid-fire dissonance that is “Despair”, but the two are companions in their death-fixated claustrophobia. That could be due to the fact that nothing here truly ends, as album closer “Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night” brings Wash the Sins back to the thunderous crash with which it began.
Conjuring the drama, deliberate pacing, and repetition of ’80s goth along with a post-rock core and swirls of tremolo, Wash the Sins Not Only the Face initially appears to be more of the same from Esben and the Witch. The album’s perplexing textures and assured vocals, though, add density to the Brighton trio’s desolate mood and sinister themes.
Essential Tracks: “Deathwaltz”, “Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night”