Chelsea Wolfe’s musical maelstrom has long appealed to a wide variety of music fans across the spectrum, perhaps the only uniting factor being an intrigue in minor keys and moroseness. Her latest album, 2013’s Pain is Beauty, furthers the branching out into moods and sounds and ideas. Wolfe’s Gothic connotations only extend to the gloomy and sinister atmosphere that trudges deeply into a mire of downtuned guitars and eerie soundscapes. The overall whole of her music becomes less quantifiable with this latest release.
Pain is Beauty forsakes the dirty and crunchy textures found on previous albums for an immersion of analog synths, gently echoing guitars, and lush symphonic backgrounds. The folksy witchcraft is there in bits and pieces, creeping shadowlike under the rich and clear production that makes Pain is Beauty such a distinct evolution, but the direction is clear: “House of Metal” lumbers along deep, sleepy analog synths on which a twinkling key melody bounces. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” is a cacophonous indie tune that is eerily upbeat in conjunction with the ever-dark lyrics. “Sick” is a funeral dirge of spooky keys that reach high through tangles of tree limbs and fading rays of sunshine against Wolfe’s tale of obsession. “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” is a feverish folk tune told through the reverb of an acoustic guitar, and “The Waves Have Come” is a marching elegy that highlights bleakly symphonic exercises and a story of death and devastation.
Vocally, Wolfe remains in top form, her voice rooted in a possessed trance that echoes, croons, whispers, and scrapes its way through her morbid lyrical excursions. The hollow room through which it is filtered is the extra touch that gives each album of hers a boost in its haunting qualities.
With a versatile dark sound and an increasing list of touring partners that span all over the grid, Chelsea Wolfe is sure to go even further than the macabre corner she’s carved out for herself in the realm of the underground. Pain is Beauty doesn’t cease in exhausting limitations and expectations, and we can only hope that she will never stop.