- by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2019-09-13 Label: Sargent House
Don’t ever tell this lady to smile or lighten up. No one does Queen of Goth doom and gloom better than Chelsea Wolfe. Her last album, Hiss Spun proved that like nothing else. It was a dance party for White Walkers and the chick from The Ring movies. But I confess, I also love it when Wolfe goes acoustic. As evidenced on 2012’s Unknown Rooms, the results can be Twin Peaks haunting. Her latest bears the chipper title of, Birth of Violence. And if that sounds a little pretentious, pretention is part of the package when it comes to this chanteuse. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Don’t let the fact she’s raising the sacrificial dagger on the cover turn you away. This one’s worth laying on the bloody altar for. ‘The Mother Road’ is quite a road trip. “Guess I needed to break me, guess I needed someone to shake me up.” Her voice a mix of sarcasm and acknowledgement. Things begin with an acoustic strum but soon a wide-open road at night looms ahead. Wolfe’s haunting voice your only guide on what is likely to be a hallucinogenic journey. “Bloom and eclipse them, wake up and transform,” might just serve as your roadmap.
‘American Darkness’ could serve as the new national anthem given the current state of affairs in this country. “Kiss me as the bell tolls, swiftly as the horses ride,” she beckons. Her advice as we’re “left in American darkness”? Dance mother fucker, dance. An eerie number filled with eclipsed suns and burning rivers. However, the landscape she’s describing may be more internal than external. Could this be a plea for someone to come along and cheer her up?
Not so fast. ‘Birth of Violence’ follows. An acoustic ballad wrapped in spare, doomy atmospherics. It’s a haunting, unsettling track. “Sister of the road, I see your defences, I take ten paces,” pretty much sums it up. If this is a showdown, it might be with one’s reflection in the mirror.
If you’re expecting ‘Deranged For Rock and Roll’ to come at you like Mötley Crüe, you’re going to be disappointed. “Drink my dreams and sell my soul,” she laments in a soaring voice. “This ain’t the life I chose. It was waiting there for me to call.” But this song doesn't come off as your usual gripe about fame and the music biz. It's more a love letter to being fucked up by it. And giving in to its wild horses. Wolfe summoning the forces of destruction around her like a warrior princess. An album highlight.
‘Be All Things’ is a haunting acoustic ballad that comes dangerously close to flirting with ‘Dust In The Wind’ but never falls into mawkishness. It’s the kind of number that would have easily fit on Unknown Rooms. Any way you cut it, its arresting and beautiful stuff with its ravens waking at dawn and cryptic prophetic imagery. I don’t know about you, but this is what I come to Chelsea Wolfe for. Potent magic.
‘Erde’ is German for earth. She’s not referring to mother earth so much as the stuff you bury your love in. “Got a baby on death row,” might be the operative line here. A predictably morose number with some spoken word whisperings and glum metal guitars. Going to show every day is Halloween in Chelsea Wolfe town. Put a candle in the pumpkin and kick up your heels at the witches sabbath.
‘When Anger Turns to Honey’ kicks off with some haunting keening before things fall into a melancholic acoustic groove. “Pain is the great connector,” she discloses. Musically, it is forever winter on this album and this track is no exception. If the ending leaves you a little cold, ‘Dirt Universe’ might just rock you gently into your nightmares. Another song cast in the same mood as those that preceded it. At this point, the album either loses steam for you or you get caught up in its swaying, trance-like motion.
‘Little Grave’ is another melancholic lullaby whispering not so sweet nothings in your ear like, “touch not ye me little grave.” There is a definite Leonard Cohen Songs of Love & Hate vibe to this one. Wolfe’s vocals blowing through you like the winter wind, cutting you to the bone.
The funereal ‘Preface To A Dream Play’ keeps up the morbid atmospherics with relish. If you’re hoping for a break in the gloom, the lonesome rolling thunder of ‘Highway’ merely drives through it with no end in sight. Your only company, ennui and longing. For my money, it aptly sums up my own days of touring with chilling accuracy.
Birth of Violence ends in ‘The Storm’. Not so much an out of control tempest lashing at the moorings or even a song, but clichéd sound effects. I confess as far as endings go, it comes off a bit trite and unsatisfactory. But if an eerie journey is what you want, Wolfe still gives you your money’s worth. Birth of Violence isn’t the kind of album that grabs you by the jugular so much as seeps in under your skin like a damp chill and haunts you for all your remaining days. Overall, this is a willowy, introspective listen. With Wolfe singing her heart out like a half delirious oracle. A satisfactory companion on a lonesome winter day in the scarecrow fields before the skies piss down on you.