Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
Released: September 3, 2013
Label: Sergent House
Producer: Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm
Genre: Industrial Rock, Gothic, Experimental, Dark Wave, Ethereal Wave, Doom
01 Feral Love
02 We Hit a Wall
03 House of Metal
04 The Warden
05 Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter
09 Ancestors, the Ancients
10 They’ll Clap When You’re Gone
11 The Waves Have Come
L.A. singer Chelsea Wolfe has synthesized a lot of genres in her records. From synthesized doom folk and noise metal, to nihilist experimentation and surreal soundscapes. She is known for her “specific brand of drone-metal-art-folk”. It’s austere and atmospheric, expressed with the reverb through which Wolfe often pushes her voice; she’s opened for extreme bands like Sun O))), Boris, and Swans and has cited Gorgoroth‘s “Of Ice and Movement” as a treasured song. All that black and doom metal love comes out as her fullest and most complete work till now.
Her two previous records, Apokalypsis and Unknown Rooms, hint a slight nod towards hip hop and, in general, melody. If you hear these two albums to prepare yourself for her recently released Pain is Beauty you are in for a surprise. In her two previous records there wasn’t just a hint of gothiness. It almost felt like she was making a parody out of it. Needless to say I was both surprised and laughing when I found out she grew up with a cemetery in her backyard. Her new album clears all that haze and allows us to get a better look at her raw talent and spirit.
Her touring with Swans and Sun O))) has done her a world of good. In the same manner that the Swans‘ superb 2012 release The Seer focuses on aggressive energy, so does Wolfe’s songs emphasize massive builds with engulfing power. It’s emotionally exhausting in equally mad and enjoyable ways, lasting nearly an hour across 12 twilight tracks of aggressive crescendos, poised reprieves, and suspended drama. The slower her metamorphosis, the heavier and more cavernous. You’ll realize that once you hear the drone-influenced haunting “Feral Love” that opens the album, all the way up until the ominous “Sick” which signals the beginning of a wicked and cinematic finale. You can tell how high in regard she hols soundtrack music throughout the album. And finally, when she arrives at her folk-influenced and poetic ballad ,”They’ll Clap When You’re Gone”, you’ll realize the heaviness of her lyricism. “Someone opened me up while I was sleeping/ Filled my body right up with sand,” she sings. “I carry a heaviness like a mountain.” The clarity of her songs can be terrifying.
These songs do require some patience to listen but that comes with a great reward in the end. The entire soundscape that this record is built on can be both bleak and euphoric in the same way that some danceable negative space R&B Tri-Angle records are. Her songs and lyrics are both repelling like a funeral and at the same time inviting like a march. Through her deranged and spector-like lyrics the album proves equally enjoyable and all consuming.
I’ve left the best part for last though. Her intoxicating voice. It carries both strength and weight. Even in the bleakest experimentation of the album her voice is the one singularity in the entire record; existing somewhere in the planes between folk, metal and sharpened pop. Wolfe sings with conviction, grounded in themes of nature, ancestry, and tormented love. “The Waves Have Come”, an epic, skin-crawling, eight-minute ballad with pierced high strings, is a journey of terror and sorrow and the record’s most intense moment– sung from the lovelorn perspective of a natural disaster survivor, inspired by the hugely fatal Japanese earthquake and tsunami two years ago.
A peculiar thing about Chelsea Wolfe and her cultural presence is how her cultish following is so disjointed– she’s popular among fans of extreme music, but also the fashion and art worlds, having repped designers like Alexander McQueen and Iris van Herpen, and soundtracked New York painter Richard Phillips’ 2011 art film with Sasha Grey. And while there’s something fascinating in how Wolfe attracts these crowds, she seems to exist alone in her own world on Pain Is Beauty, crystallizing and strengthening her musical language without compromising her original, principled vision. There’s a propulsive quality to much of the beat-oriented Pain, but there remains a relative sense of privacy. It’s hard to imagine Wolfe dancing to Pain Is Beauty, save for inside her own head.
“The Waves Have Come”:
“We Hit A Wall”: