Every so often, a new artist emerges that follows a completely different set of ideals in regards to their music, which to me make them that much more engaging from the get-go. Whether it be a change in the melodic framework of that artists work or a different lyrical focus, some artists stand out immediately for their fresh take on modern music. It usually makes you wonder how some of these musical webs are weaved, and in the case of Sacramento’s Chelsea Wolfe, she has demonstrated her uniqueness many times now. From the deep grumblings of 2011’s Ἀποκάλυψις (also referred to as Apokalypsis) to the soft, but foreboding tracks that lined her Unknown Rooms collection last year, Wolfe has shown that she not only has a knack for songwriting, but is also able to tie vivid imagery and strong emotion into her tracks. 2013’s addition Pain Is Beauty houses the same darkness presented on her early work while also tying in the inescapable beauty and presence of Wolfe’s voice. It is her strongest musical and emotional statement yet, with the album title serving as a powerful reminder: Pain is Beauty.
Musically, Pain Is Beauty is also Wolfe’s most diverse collection yet, with some tracks drawing from her gothic-folk guitar work and a large group of tracks stemming from electronics. Unlike Wolfe’s 2012 project Unknown Rooms, Pain Is Beauty isn’t given any stylistic restrictions. From the skittering electronic beat presented on the album opener “Feral Love” to the analog drums used on tracks like “Reins”, each track has it’s own driving force. What keeps all these songs together however, is the sultry sweetness of Wolfe’s voice. Rolling through emotional lines like “I can see it from here, the end is coming”, her voice presents an obvious beauty while still emanating a glimmer of something darker.
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Songs like “Demons” off Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις hold an obvious darkness, but it’s visible on the songs surface. With the tracks on Pain Is Beauty however, it’s how Wolfe masks this darkness that makes them so eerie and engaging. Songs like “House of Metal” and “Sick” are lined with dreary melodies and melancholic lyrics, but are still made nothing short of beautiful when layered with Wolfe’s singing. Its in moments like this that the album’s title truly begins to shine. Though melancholic and apocalyptic imagery are strong catalysts throughout this record, there is an inescapable beauty to how it sounds, and it’s because of how Wolfe lets her personal emotion shine through these tracks. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” is one of the only tracks off Pain Is Beauty that plays more toward Wolfe’s older work.
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Wolfe has a knack for matching elements that would otherwise be opposites, with Pain Is Beauty housing moments that are simultaneously claustrophobic and spacious, and dark, but still emitting a gentle brightness. It’s an album that holds a heavy emotional weight while still being a strong and beautiful musical statement. It’s Wolfe’s most introspective statement yet, which directly contributes to how memorable tracks like “Sick” are. Chelsea Wolfe did mention that this record would use more electronics, and she has managed to match them perfectly with her artistic aesthetics. Its interesting that Wolfe once suffered from stage fright, because the songs on Pain Is Beauty all exhibit a haunting beauty that is completely captivating throughout it’s 55 minute run time. I’m sure her live show would only be that much more enthralling.
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