More about: Chelsea Wolfe
From the humble beginnings of From The Grime and The Glow; to the experimentation into darker planes in Apokalypsis; the oozing synth baths of Pain Is Beauty; and the subsequent forays into drone and doom metal as the embodiment of psychosis in her most recent offerings Abyss and Hiss Spun - Chelsea Wolfe has been sculpting a sound that is ever burgeoning, morphing, and expansive. In some ways similar to her 2012 album, Unknown Rooms, Wolfe returns with Birth of Violence which sees things stripped back, but somehow more poignant than before.
Spawned out of exhaustion from an intense schedule on the road, the Sacramento native decided to retreat into her quiet space in Northern California for a year of reflection. What transpired was an instance of awakening. Recorded at her home, mostly with her acoustic guitar and her co-collaborator Ben Chisholm, Birth of Violence contains more simplicity and clarity than anything Wolfe has done thus far. From the first instance of ‘The Mother Road’ you’re thrust into the depths of which Wolfe must’ve existed in, during the writing process. The track is haunting in its echoey delivery. As with some of her previous records, Wolfe’s love of the viola is still present and haunting as ever but strip it all back and there’s just a woman with her guitar searching for a moment of solitude for all that she has found so far.
Birth of Violence shows that Wolfe is an enchantress and the High Priestess of her field amongst her peers like Emma Ruth Rundle, Zola Jesus and Jenny Hval. Tapping more into her singer-songwriter side, there is an occult feel from the desolate worlds that she conjures; a lonely whispering of someone who is forlorn and exhausted by the cyclic natures of their mental torments. In ‘American Darkness’ Wolfe’s vocals are wisps of whispers that relay the vulnerability that comes from the need of stripping things back from the overwhelming rush of life on the road. At other points in the album she uses her harrowing falsetto in ghostly calls, and her powerful chest voice which subtly bellows her authority. Birth of Violence unravels the secrecies of Wolfe’s vocal capability which are normally hidden behind searing guitars and thunderous drums.
The eponymous song ‘Birth of Violence’ shows the darkly poetic nature of Wolfe and highlights an alchemy to her haunting lyricism. ‘Deranged for Rock and Roll’ mirrors ‘Gold’ from Unknown Rooms, but instead of being solely acoustic, there’s an elevation to the drums which are gravelly and echoed off in the horizon of some bleak distant world. Wolfe cultivates a warmth in desolation which becomes nothing short of inviting in ‘Be All Things’ putting Wolfe in her rightful place as a creature of the night: “pull me towards death / ravens walk at dawn and daylight burns my skin". Dominated by strings and sending shivers down your spine with shattering emotive vocals, it feels like a complete shedding of self and surrendering to the earth, and all otherworldly aspects. The rapturous outro sees Wolfe become seraphic, transcending the murky netherworlds of her past albums, and reaching out to something more. Something unseen, yet elysian.
With Wolfe's beguiling falsetto dominating Birth of Violence, there’s a softening and fluidity which we have seldomly heard before. ‘Erde’ transforms into an ode to femininity: “women is the origin, holder.” Wolfe’s scratchy whisperings after the soft vocals appear to be a tapping into the most feminine aspects of herself. When she asks the listener “rip my heart out” it feels almost like a daring to break the protective spell in which she has cast upon herself. There are hints of this with the fawn-like ‘When Anger Turns to Honey’. As in the natural chaos of life, everything has two sides. The juxtaposition of something dulcet, with something harsh is comparable to that of the archaic idea of the female existence. Being a person with such fiery energy, it is no surprise that Wolfe explores these narratives.
‘Little Grave’ and ‘Preface to Dreamplay’ detail the corrupting of innocence - the former being inspired by the school shootings that are frequenting America. It feels like lullaby of being led by the children who have lost their lives in tragic circumstances. There’s shiver-inducing layering of harmonies and a scratchy static of guitar which wail like sirens, in the background. “They lead me there and there I lay. You can’t fight guns with guns we all perish that way.” The latter contains a bass and drum combination that feels like a throbbing heartbeat as though the realisation of loss has set in. “Those were the days my hair was wilder and those were the days we could do no harm.”
Re-discovering yourself and your needs after giving all of yourself to something and not retaining enough to keep you going is the premise of ‘Highway’ - “another city, another day, left all of me on the stage”. Though it is in 'Dirt Universe’ where we fully grasp the weight of it all. There’s an indecipherable quality about Wolfe’s vocals which adds to the intoxicating mysticism. “I didn’t know what it was worth, indifference of the longing, staying over going.” The instrumentation is a lot more spacey and intense which allows lyrics like: “I am the daughter of sorrow,keep looking, you’re gonna find me,” feel like a threat in some aspects. There’s a piercing clarity in Wolfe’s voice which leans toward a kind of yearning despite the fact that you can barely understand her.
Whilst Chelsea Wolfe is going through an unmasking of sorts - shedding the layers of her sonic universe, and further exploring territories that she has sparsely trodden - her solitude and furtiveness remain the binding force that make it easy to decipher whether the album is complete rebirth or more of an awakening. By closing Birth of Violence with a song called ‘The Storm’ - which is simply a recording of thunder and rain - it’s a natural assumption that this signifies the birth. Nature opening up her heavens and unleashing something proficient in sustaining life unto the world. What is normally a cyclic event that most overlook, Wolfe alludes to the fact that you should pay closer attention as there may be secrets and sorcery to be revealed beneath the crashing and overwhelming sound.
Birth of Violence is out now via Sargent House.
More about: Chelsea Wolfe