Review Summary: Birth of Violence marks as a regressive, but still enjoyable, chapter in Chelsea Wolfe’s career.
There are few in this game that can reify humanity’s dark psyche with the same level of hypnotic command and oppressive distinction like Chelsea Wolfe. The contrasting beauty and ugliness is her main allure – a linchpin. It’s a masterclass that hears Wolfe’s ethereal vocal passages floating through gothic-smog like a ray of hope that’s trying to contaminate the dreary, salient soundscapes. And it has to be said that while the assorted playing fields she’s written on have been quite intense over the years, it shouldn’t be overlooked that regardless of the backdrop, her rooted elements have always remained staunch attributes throughout her career. However, by the time Abyss
and Hiss Spun
had arrived, fans became engulfed in a thicket of Chelsea Wolfe’s darkest, doomiest incarnations to date; an amalgamation of her gloomy, poignant folk roots being met with profoundly dense and crunchy riffs. All of the stripped bare vulnerabilities associated with her earlier works had been consumed by this industrial-doom juggernaut she’d built for herself, creating a new canvas to exercise her demons on. It’s ambitious, well-executed stuff as well – easily the most arduous writing of her career and a tipping point that many would regard as Wolfe’s experimental peak.
As such, Birth of Violence
is a double-edged sword in a couple of ways, the most obvious being the album’s style. It’s understandable that some people may become vexed with discovering Wolfe has abandoned the abrasive, guttural sludge of recent years in favour of a more reminiscent sound from her former days. And indeed, you could certainly see this as backpedalling in the creative timeline – had the execution not been so flawlessly employed. I won’t pull any punches here, Birth of Violence
is, sonically, a stark contrast to her last few albums, but where she relinquishes the tumultuous chaos with all its grinding riffs and layers, she makes up for it with a uniquely reinforced melancholy. It’s a buffet of as many grotesque moments as it is gorgeous ones. One thing this record excels at is subtle build-ups, ones that swell and implode at the apex of a song rather than explode with transparent intentions. The general presentation of these songs is mysterious, naked and desolate, but more importantly, simple in their execution. The acoustic guitar is a predominant fixture, but the effectiveness of the album’s writing comes into fruition when it introduces string arrangements, beautiful billows of synth that add to the pained instrumentals and Wolfe’s plaintive cries, and a teasing of the fuzzy attributes connected to her recent ventures.
The record is peppered with magnificent and delicate melodies, the likes of which “When Anger Turns to Honey” cradles over the sluggish clanking of its acoustic guitar, but the album isn’t littered in overtly accessible pieces. In fact, the only catchy song here – in the conventional sense – is “Deranged for Rock & Roll”, a blood-pressure-raising number in comparison to the other tracks and one that lays down a really strong foundation of meaty instrumentals and apparent hooks. It’s the quintessential radio single if there ever was one. The rest of the album isn’t as forgiving and demands a little more patience to benefit from its full display of nuances and subtle shades of colour. Despite finding myself admitting I adore the ferocious, visceral hammer of Abyss
and Hiss Spun
, I can’t deny the positives that come from doing away with the sonic slop that dominates the last two albums. The barren nature of Birth of Violence
leaves a strikingly oppressive and consistent tone throughout. The album art is indicative of its sonic themes; a kind of pagan, ritualistic vibe that translates into an organic soundscape filled with natures beauty and dread. It also leaves a mound of room for Wolfe to explore her superb vocal chops, an aspect that has become a somewhat diminished focus in recent years.
But, for all of Birth of Violence
’s glowing qualities, this will ultimately split opinions in some way. To go from the cacophonous eruption of recent works, only to simmer back down to a spacious, folk-y soundscape is a little perplexing and jarring, given the context. It doesn’t help that this is a really subtle album; things don’t pop out at you during the first couple of runs, and for some, it may never completely grab them at all. But for those that stick with it, Birth of Violence
offers an excellent experience. One could argue it’s a reflective and sometimes recycled project, but to those unaware, that’s half the point: this is a record that flexes Chelsea’s age and experience, in search of crafting a more refined and mature version of her folk roots with class – and to that end, she succeeds with flying colours. It’s not innovative, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in execution. This is, arguably, the most consistent sounding album she has ever produced, and although it may not appeal to every one of her fans, it’ll certainly have old fans relishing in the brooding, spiritual journey it provides.
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: N/A
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://chelseawolfe.bandcamp.com/album/birth-of-violence