Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence (Album Review)

One of the most rapidly ascending names in the world’s musical consciousness has been northern California native Chelsea Wolfe, who over the course of five studio albums and heaps of touring since a 2010 debut, has built a following that spans and unites fans from the worlds of Heavy Metal, Goth, Electro Pop, and everything in between. Now, on Friday the 13th of September 2019, Wolfe will bestow her sixth original studio album onto the world under the name Birth of Violence, via Sargent House Records.

Fans of Wolfe’s music have fallen in love with the bleak vibrancy of her pain-stricken odes to personal and existential darkness. Will this new record, which once more features Wolfe collaborating closely with the band’s bass guitar and keyboard extraordinaire Ben Chisholm, keep the altimeter soaring this darksome crooner. Can an artist keep hitting creative peaks through six albums in under ten years?

Opting out of the tense and distorted soundscapes opening her past two albums, Wolfe instead tries for the more dulcet, minimalist approach with “The Mother Road,” a melding of lament for environmental destruction tangled with the embattled struggle of women in an often cruel world. Its rhythmic heart is joined in its climactic conclusion by waves of sound that advance and ebb like the tide. A bit of double-tracking on the vocals amplify the girth of the tune, and the listener is swept away entirely.

Listening further it becomes apparent that, at least for this album, Wolfe has chosen to eschew the massive slabs of sound that became hallmarks of her past few works. Lilting, lounge-and-shadow suites like “American Darkness” have her unleashing her inner Mazzy Star, acoustic picking and some understated keys adding that nimbus of discomfiture and mystery to music that is unmistakably Chelsea Wolfe. Her stripped down approach is nowhere better articulated on the album, perhaps, than on its title-track. Wolfe’s voice, lower and poised with that echoing quality she always nails, makes the song a lullaby of attenuated melancholy. Rarely can such simple majesty be found in a recording artist, and at this point it is obvious that Chelsea Wolfe has a direct conduit to this river of inspiration, seemingly at the tips of her lithe, black-nailed fingers.

If Birth of Violence has an anthem within its softly-glowing halls, it is in “Deranged For Rock & Roll.” Brash and boisterous, Wolfe’s spectral pipes haunt it like ghosts in a graveyard. Despite this high point of energetic rock, Birth of Violence is pierced through its heart by a good chunk of dismal yet determined acoustic pieces. While not an unfamiliar mode of songwriting to fans, the light Wolfe has decided to let in with these tunes succeeds in peeling back the layers and exposing the nuances of her voice in less familiar ways. Like clearing dirt, twigs and debris from the face of an old tombstone, the listener can get a clearer image of the emotion contained within these songs, with the simple power of the voice singing them. “Preface To A Dream Play,” set to an undertone of beats and undulating soundscapes, is another example of the majesty of ruin springing out of quietude.

Wolfe’s music is in large part a young woman pouring her vulnerability and pain onto wax, as it were, and with Birth of Violence you are dosed with a newfound aspect of her expression. The heartbreaking radiance of “Be All Things” stirs the soul with orchestral grace, converging into a crescendo before the listener even knows they are being led to one. Of similar simplistic grandeur, but ever so slightly more agitated, “Dirt Universe” provides its own harrowing punch while “Highway” winds up being two minutes, fifty seconds of some of the finest singer-songwriter playing in her growing canon.

Altogether, what you get is one of the most harrowing, lovely, and consuming releases of the year. An album which doubtless contains future classics that will be cherished over lifetimes, Cryptic Rock gives Birth of Violence 5 out of 5 stars.


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