Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is BeautyCultureAlbum reviewMusic
It’s fair to say that Chelsea Wolfe doesn’t always look on the bright side. Her music is laden with a healthy dose of gloom, summoning foreboding atmospheres reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees or Bauhaus. She’s been tagged as everything from “doom-folk” to “drone-pop,” which gives an indication of her experiments in production and genre. Her work is always interesting, and regardless of the darkness that cloaks it, never dreary.
After last year’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs (it does what it says on the tin), Pain is Beauty finds Wolfe taking another musical diversion, winding her way into more electronic territory. It’s a direction most obviously displayed by the skittering beats that underpin many of the album’s tracks, upon which are piled layers of synthesisers, guitars and reverb-drenched vocals.
All of these elements combine to glorious effect on The Warden. Taking its inspiration from Orwell’s 1984, the track somehow wrestles the atmosphere of despair (“The warden bore a hole in my skull”) into the structure of a classic pop song. It’s a combination of darkness and light that a band like Depeche Mode made their own, and The Warden could easily pass as a Violator outtake.
The album never quite reaches those lofty heights again, yet it remains an absorbing listen. We Hit a Wall is founded upon a truly monstrous drum beat, while the penultimate The Waves Have Come begins with delicate piano that is gradually enveloped by strings over the course of its nine and a half minutes. Hidden within the shadows lurks her voice: a breathy exclamation that sounds like it’s been recorded in a cavern.
A pleasingly idiosyncratic release, Pain is Beauty is perhaps a step below Chelsea Wolfe’s breakout album Apokaylsis in terms of consistency. The album’s middle third passes by without much impact, and the final song Lone is rendered somewhat redundant after the epic that preceded it. Still, she remains a singular songwriting talent and a master at producing enthralling, lush textures. A little more substance over style next time and we may have a classic on our hands.
Pain is Beauty is released on 2nd September, but you can pre-order the album here.
Watch the video for The Warden here: