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. Strong darkwave and industrial influences are present on a majority of the record's tracks, with the organic and heirloom feel of Apokalypsis
and Unknown Rooms
forsaken almost entirely, in favor of a polished and pulsating digital sheen. Peppered with a few throwback affairs, Pain Is Beauty
commands a somewhat awkward dynamic, trying to coherently juxtapose pieces that are at odds with one another: Drum machines versus drums, synths versus guitars, present Chelsea Wolfe versus past Chelsea Wolfe. It is, however, a dynamic mostly remissible with the evident talent lining the walls of the vast majority of the album's twelve songs.
Moody and visceral with an atmosphere and intensity rarely rivaled for the duration of the album, "Feral Love" starts things off, setting the bar high for Wolfe's new sound. The track triumphs brilliantly in intertwining enchanting vocals with the cold, harsh throbbing of industrial synth and percussion before diffusing into "We Hit a Wall"'s analog saunter. Even more so than the aforementioned, the retro-indie sway of "Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter" sticks out sorely crammed in the middle of the album's electronics-heavy tracks and, while catchy, doesn't offer anything particularly original or exciting to compensate for crashing the party. Fortunately, the sublimely eerie "Sick" and sinister industrial carnival vibe of "Kings" quickly get things back on track, achieving familiar auras and sensations for the artist through unfamiliar mediums. The record slowly begins to put more of a spotlight on its star with "Reins" droning at a slow-motion gallop while exploring an intriguing frailty in Wolfe's voice akin to Björk in her prime. "They'll Clap When You're Gone" is Chelsea when she's at her strongest, which is really flexing the warm but haunting vocals that elevated Unknown Rooms
from the throes that so often plague stripped-down anything. It emanates powerfully for almost six minutes, exuding a sincerity almost gut-wrenching following the partially mechanized psalms that precede it. The final two tracks are even more reminiscent of the previous album, beautifully simple and full of life, and while their relationship to the rest of Pain Is Beauty
is unquestionably questionable, their sheer quality makes it easy to shut up and enjoy them anyway.
More than her previous efforts, this is a record that will make it easier to draw comparisons to both the works of other artists and her own, but Miss Wolfe succeeds in grossly outclassing her would-be peers more often than not and has managed to put her own stamp on an album that could have so easily been the second coming of Zola Jesus. While it's possible Pain Is Beauty
would have benefited from some more time spent songwriting and fleshing out the overall direction of the album's sound, there's still more than enough impressive songs to make this a worthy addition to the Chelsea Wolfe catalog.