The crashing guitars of opener 'Iceland Spar' announce the arrival of Esben and the Witch's second album, Wash the Sins Not Only the Face. As openers go, it hooks you in right away. But every song on this album is intriguingly listenable, from the tense 'Slow Wave', that sounds almost as if it's wary of making too much noise, to the more primal 'When That Head Splits', in which Rachel Davies' icy vocals add to the sumptuous imagery, of "gold and blues and tangerines."

The album title, incidentally, comes from a Greek palindrome: "Nipson anomēmata mē monan opsin". Palindromes are sentences that can be read the same way in either directions (and in case you were wondering, word fans, 'ps' is one letter in Greek so it still works). The title fits the album well, in more than one way.

The first song from the album to hit the internet, 'Deathwaltz', is a good halfway point. However, its fadeout creates a kind of disjointedness between the track and its successor, 'Yellow Wood', as the latter crawls out of the fade slowly and takes its time to layer sounds. It's the longest song on the album as well as one of the best, so it can take all the time it wants. Again, Davies' vocals are a highlight, bringing to life lyrics that might otherwise lack any real meaning: "A wishbone pulled apart / by a child in the dark" is just one example.

With the crashing of 'Despair', it would be easy to suggest that the second half of Wash the Sins Not Only the Face is better than the first; they're both good in different ways though, and the entire record deserves listening to properly. Remember how I said the palindrome title fits well? The album itself lends itself to being listened to in more than one direction; the tracklisting isn't entirely symmetrical, but is certainly fluid, and open to rearrangement.

Fans of Esben and the Witch will undoubtedly wonder how this album compares to their debut, Violet Cries. If anything, it feels clearer, more focussed than its predecessor, much more honed. Here is a band with a direction, who knows what they're doing. That doesn't mean for a second that they've lost their haunting, often meandering, gothic sounds from before though.

Interestingly, 'The Fall of Glorieta Mountain' feels like two separate songs, but not in a bad way; Davies' sparse vocals appear on their own, and vanish, leaving space for echoes of synth and guitar to fill the void. It's beautifully stark, and unlike anything else on the album.

'Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night' rounds things off, although it doesn't particularly feel like a closer. In fact, the album ends much in the same way that it began, with crashing sounds and a hint of gothic drama. If Wash the Sins Not Only the Face is one of our first examples of how this year will be for music, 2013 will definitely be a good one.