The first track from Esben and the Witch’s debut album, Violet Cries, is "Argyria," named after the condition that turns your skin bluish-grey when exposed to too much silver. Later, there are songs named "Chorea," a primary symptom of Huntington’s disease, and "Eumindendes," the ancient Greek spirits of vengeance. It’s obvious that Rachel Davies, Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher are going for a certain aesthetic—so-called "nightmare pop," with all sorts of creaks and screams thrown in throughout the album. But where the songs should be mysterious and haunting, they’re instead tedious and quickly tiring.
Most of the tracks on Violet Cries either take too long to get going ("Light Streams") or, worse, never really get going at all ("Marine Fields Glow"). Lead singer Davies has a theatrical enough voice, an intriguing mixture of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Siouxsie Sioux, but the only time it ever really comes alive is during "Marching Song," where she’s walking through the mud in the woods, hoping to "soldier on to this marching song/head held high, with eyes fixed strong." The music comes at you in waves, with swirling guitars and cymbal-heavy drumming, but you never make any emotional connection with what’s happening; a song like "Battlecry/Mimicry," which is literally just noise, mindlessly segues into "Eumenides," a particularly painful New Age-sounding track, just with more glitches. Violet Cries is all death and doom, with barely the remnants of a heartbeat to let you know it was alive in the first place.