Of all the slightly ridiculous descriptions that have been applied to Chelsea Wolfe’s music over the last few years, that of ‘doom folk’ is probably most accurate, spiritually if not strictly musically. On Pain is Beauty, her fifth full-length, things are mostly amped up, but the bare, intimate nature of folk music remains. Of course, as the album title makes perfectly clear to all but the eternally over-optimistic, there’s a good deal of doom present as well.
Fourth time’s a charm. Sacramento, California singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has finally reached her incredible potential with Pain Is Beauty, a stunning collection of darkly inspiring songs that are more fully realised than any of Wolfe’s previous three albums. With just enough of a gothic, deadly touch to give the album a sense of urgency but not enough absurdly dark matter to derail from its focused and nuanced sense of woe, Pain Is Beauty hits all the right notes.
The void is a place you might shy away from. But Chelsea Wolfe lives there, digging for all the melodies in the abyss. After an album she doesn’t want you to remember about was released, Wolfe took years off and redefined her musical career. Releasing The Grime and The Glow in 2010 welcomed a much darker and moodier vibe to a rewarding listen - one of the better and more underappreciated debuts of the past few years.
Of her most sophisticated album to date, Chelsea Wolfe says, “It’s an exaltation”—freedom in nature, life, love and death. It’s other things, too; dangerous, late-for-your-lover’s-funeral music; rocketing towards and over a cliff with “Feral Love”; letting the sweeping “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” take you like so much ash after the proverbial They grind your bones to dust. It’s a chilly warning in “House of Metal,” a place one should never throw stones lest they ricochet; it’s the glory (or terror) of knowing you’ll eventually be reunited with everyone who ever died in “Ancestors, the Ancients.
Despite being rightfully regarded as a mistress of darkness, Chelsea Wolfe is a more nuanced artist than her image suggests. The title Pain Is Beauty could be seen as a stereotypically gothy glorification of suffering, yet its songs explore how destruction and struggle encourage growth and change -- things that she embraces over the course of her fourth album. A shorthand description would be that she splits the difference between Apokalypsis' lo-fi fury and Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs' clarity, but once again, it's a little more complicated than that.
Pain is Beauty. That is the message delivered on Chelsea Wolfe's fourth album. And while the artist is known for infusing elements of drone metal in her work, this release caters to the macabre. Instead of the hard-nosed drive of distorted guitars, she opts for something more electronic and goth-rock driven, with hefty amounts of folk to create a very intimate, emotive LP.
The slightest decision can haunt an artist. This much is true of Chelsea Wolfe, an L.A. singer-songwriter whose records have synthesized doom folk, wasteland noise, and noirish experimentation. Wolfe's 2010 cover of "Black Spell of Destruction" by black metal outfit Burzum may follow her forever ….
Received Wisdom I: Pain Is Beauty marks Chelsea Wolfe’s third full-length album in as many years. She followed her raw, sometimes harrowing 2011 breakthrough sophomore album Apokalypsis with Unknown Rooms in 2012, a collection of acoustic songs that she had been accumulating since the beginning of her career. Between Rooms and Pain, she also put out Prayer for the Unborn, an EP of re-imagined Rudimentary Peni songs.
In the wake of Chelsea Wolfe’s 2012 wave of tranquil folk known as Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, and the noisier, doom-drenched Apokolypsis the year prior, fans were left reeling by the broody subject matter they were lured into exploring — feelings like dazed wonderment, deep depression, and fascination (or concern) with just how bummed out the pensive singer/songwriter can get. Others have been holding their breath in melodramatic anticipation, curious to see if Wolfe can transcend the limitations of her goth folk pigeonhole by doing something huge. The good news is that everyone can let out a sigh of relief, because her newest release, Pain is Beauty, takes listeners to the highest of highs, all thanks to Wolfe’s willingness to get low and descend even further into the gloom-hole.
Greek mythology album references aside, there's something about Chelsea Wolfe's work that brings Pandora's box to mind. For all the crazy bullshit that pours out, there's always a kernel of something hopeful to clutch onto..
Review Summary: Growing pains.Chelsea Wolfe continues to make bigger and bigger waves in the underground music scene, amassing and uniting fans across a multitude of genres with her unique blend of diverse influences and distinctive yet varied vocal stylings, constantly difficult to pigeonhole. The term "gothic" is almost always used in conjunction with Wolfe and her music, though it tends to sell the artist and her often dark and dream-like works a bit short. Genre tags and descriptors have, for the most part, lacked the appropriate connotations and context to articulately describe Chelsea Wolfe's previous three albums, but this, her fourth full-length, plays into slightly more definitive archetypal tropes.
New Musical Express (NME) - 60 Based on rating 3/5
In her pursuit of a darker darkness, Sacramento’s Chelsea Wolfe has gone so far as to cover Burzum, the Norwegian black metal act fronted by convicted murderer Varg Vikernes. She also performed early tours from under a black veil (as much to deflect from her crippling shyness). Along with PJ Harvey and Zola Jesus references, ‘The Warden’ finds her playing the Giorgio Moroder ice queen, while ‘They’ll Clap When You’re Gone’ heads deep into the noir-country of Chris Isaak.
Sacramento native Chelsea Wolfe has a unique sound. Inside her goth-flavoured concoction are drops of industrial rock, a dash of melodrama, a couple jiggers of synthpop and a half-pound of meaty folk. She admits to being influenced by black metal, doom and drone music, as well as Scandinavian folk, which probably explains her array of styles. It’s a potent brew she possesses, comprising simmering darkness and glamorous overtones in a similar vein to Wisconsin opera fiend Zola Jesus.
The artwork for ‘Pain Is Beauty’ is baffling. Wolfe seems to shiver, gazing out to the left, standing brilliant in a bright red dress. The font is garish. Paradoxically named, what’s contained within makes up, in her words, a eulogy to the strangeness of nature, all about how ancestry and mythology affect our present-day condition and personality.
The lucid and the cryptic mingle, unpredictably and strategically, in the songs on Neko Case’s sixth solo studio album, “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.” Usually it’s the music that comes across as straightforward. The melodies are ….