(Credit: Ana Grave)

Esben and The Witch live from Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Very little could have prepared the audience for the diversity of the triple bill acts at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Tuesday.

Openers, London based quartet, Teeth of the Sea were met with disturbed faces amongst the crowd as the unsettling gritty vocoded lyrics of the Germanic ‘leder’ were uttered through the P.A.

The band’s experience of cinematic soundscapes coloured the set, a nightmarish soundtrack to a Metropolis remake if you will. The instilled faces of fear turned into that of awe as the band’s musical ability set heads nodding and feet tapping. The audience was transfixed by the metallic industrial rock that followed. ‘Black Strategy‘ with its sweeping synths and loud quiet dynamics set the unpredictability of the set.

Respite from the intense industrial sound came in the form of eerie trumpet melodies, complementing and contrasting with the backing. TOTS’ third album, ‘Master’ via Rocket Recordings was released earlier this week. The hypnotic third track ‘Servant’ makes the listener become just that, you’re transfixed by the post apocalyptic vocals; they’re certainly a band to lose yourself to.

The second act, Thought Forms, were a welcomed addition to the bill. The shoegaze trio from the South-West used psychedelia and dynamic inflections to encapsulate the listener. As most reviews transpire, bands are usually tied to a certain band or genre. It’s extremely hard to find a fitting place for Thought Forms. You could place them between early Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth, but their psychedelic tendencies suggest otherwise. You could say a nod towards Jefferson Airplane.

In certain songs, frontman Charlie Romijn’s ethereal presence is somewhat apparitional. Take the slower paced ‘Afon’ for example; Deej Dhariwal’s almost Arabian riffs, twinned with Charlie’s capricious lyrical style create a tense atmosphere, a precursor to the scuzzy American grunge heard later in the set. The band’s current album ‘Ghost Mountain’ constantly puts the listener on edge, they are as unpredictable as they are dynamic; this is even truer live. Compare this with the incredibly scuzzy ‘Sans Soleil’ with the distorted driven guitars and you will appreciate the complexity of the band.

Finally; the pinnacle of the night, Esben and the Witch. Entering the stage, the titled ‘goth-pop’ band from Brighton initially didn’t look as though they had the dominating stage presence of the bands before, but their sound certainly proved otherwise.

Rachel Davies is something of a mystery. Her modest and retracted stage presence allows the backing to receive the due attention they deserve. This position also allowed her to flit in and out of a dominant role. There’s a sense of urgency with Esben and the Witch that both unsettled and excited the crowd.

Thomas Fisher (guitar) and Daniel Copeman (drums) both produced unfaltering performances. It’s incomprehensible how the complexity of the riffs and drum patterns stay as tight as they do whilst the dynamic change is so drastic. This change is what makes it so difficult to pin Esben and the Witch to a specific genre, yet making their sound so accessible to everyone. You could compare the band to some 90’s gothic outfits. Cocteau Twins, with their darkwave tendencies, shares similarities with ‘When That Head Splits’. Rachel’s vocal and lyrical style is also comparable at times to Bjork’s in The Sugarcubes.

The lyrics tell a story and they tell it well, especially fitting as the band is named after a Danish fairytale. The haunting, ‘Marching Song’ tells of a soldier marching into battle, “Arms and legs, teeth and nail. Our fragile companions are destined to fail. For this battalion has been run through, therefore, captains and comrades, I bid you all adieu”.

Esben and the Witch are awash with power, and the sound is immense enough to blow your socks off. ‘Wash the Sins Not Only the Face’, released earlier this year is an essential buy if you haven’t done so already. A spectacle performed live, you’ll only get a glimpse of this in the album, so be sure to catch them in Bristol on Monday and Oxford later this year.

Jake Setterfield

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