Review by Jake Hout, August 2016
A Warm Darkness, ESSES “No Light In This Fire”
Listening to the debut release of Oakland’s post/dark/punk outfit ESSES, I find there could hardly be a more fitting title than “No Light In This Fire”. -Thick saturated tones, howling minor keys, and high drama boil and trouble in a cauldron with undulating ecstatic fever both dark and warm.
Heavily distorted instruments blend in and out of each other. Elements of shoegaze and occasional post metal mix into the unique wall of sound. The mood is ominous and epic in scale. Huge bass tone rolls thunder in a monsoon, as guitars and keyboard raise steam from swamps and drip sweat from stalactites.
Crucial to the over all effect is Miss Kel’s gorgeous vocal performance. Her voice stands central, close to the listener’s ear, intimate and personal at moments, and then rises on the wind at crescendos.
Torment and a sense of spiritual heartbreak flow through the melodies and content. Track 4 the sad and lush “Withering Flowers” laments time’s cruelty with an analogy of flowers past their prime “once so sweet/no one misses them” an epic tragedy in microcosm. Dreamlike sometimes manic desires in songs like “Echoes” and “Burning” and the heavy dirge of existential woe in “The Prisoner Within” are delivered with passion and intensity.
The band members have been making dark music together for years. Husband and wife team of Miss Kell and drummer Kevin Brown were in the Bay Area second wave Deathrock band Black Ice together. Guitarist Dawn Hills was in Red Voice Choir also with the couple, before they joined Michael Mersereau on guitar and Schon Clem on bass to form ESSES. The album was recorded and produced at Kempton House by Skot Brown, Kevin’s brother also of Black Ice. This too may contribute to the sense of warmth, as these are artists who understand each other extremely well. The vision is clearly focused yet the music doesn’t have the sense of being forced intentionally into any category or reference point, it feels this is the natural result of this group playing their instincts together.
The album is released on Atakra Records an independent label who also put out Phantom Limbs first EP as well as Black Ice and Red Voice Choir. It’s available locally at record shops in the Bay Area and for order from the bands bandcamp on vinyl and for download. esses1.bandcamp.com/album/no-light-in-this-fire
It’s a hell of an opening salvo from a band that sets a mood all its own.