As first demonstrated during last year’s joint headlining tour, Esben And The Witch and Thought Forms seem to like each other. A union which begat sharing a stage in 2013 now begets the sharing of an actual vinyl. And isn’t it nice when people just get along.
Besides, as unions go, this seems a furtive one, born of common creative urges, not one forged in the fires of hell – or McBusted, as it’s sometimes known. This split LP harks back to a time when bands used to do this kind of thing regularly, pitching the artists in serialised form. It consists of one side (four tracks) from Thought Forms and one side (two tracks) from Esben And The Witch.
On their side, Thought Forms take a grungier route. You can often spot a graceful arc of guitar heading for the stars – Your Bones wafts along with shimmering grace, before giving way to someone torturing a wah-wah pedal – but mostly it’s punkier and more brutal. It peaks with Sound Of Violence, where the barbed riff hammers away with malevolent intent.
Esben And The Witch draw starker shapes. Their songs are heavier and more gothic. There’s also the hint at a slight change in direction for them. The first two albums were pretty cerebral affairs, aimed for your head. Here, they sound more interested in going for your neck.
Butoh is hazy and builds slowly. There are tribal drums and metallic slashes of guitar, before Rachel Davies’ increasingly desperate voice cries from the shadows and envelops you in the sort of post-apocalyptic instrumental meltdown that keeps Godspeed You! Black Emperor in awards they don’t want. Even better is No Dog, which tumbles forward with the sort of unstoppable momentum you normally only get when pushing a grand piano out of a window. There’s an echo of Phat Planet by Leftfield, had that song crawled out of a swamp with a hangover, a club and a score to settle.
It’s combined with a remarkable, tension building grasp of dynamics. When Davies’ voice first appears in, it signals the point where the storm momentarily abates. Then the pace ramps up, the rumble recommences, and the song gallops forwards towards a howling, destructive climax.
It is the high point of a collection which doesn’t really do anything particularly low. There’s absolutely no doubt, these are two acts who could do great things this year. But while Thought Forms impress, it is Esben And The Witch who in two tracks, in 15 brief minutes, absolutely stun.