It has been a strange and fascinating journey to follow the career of Chelsea Joy Wolfe. Born in Northern California to a country musician father, she was instilled with a love of music and began writing at an early age, but it wasn’t until 2010 that she began to define her own musical style with her critically acclaimed debut album The Grime & The Glow.
Over the course of the next four releases Wolfe has employed a variety of styles including Doom, Drone, Industrial and Goth Metal to blend with her eclectic folk and country background to create a catalogue of stunning, unique and sometimes harrowing releases that owe as much to Hank Williams and Joy Division as they do to Neurosis and Deftones.
Birth Of Violence, her sixth full-length release, sees the singer/song writer strip back her sound from previously sonically heavier efforts and find inspiration by recording mainly acoustically in the woods surrounding her birthplace.
The Mother Road opens with a low key, heavily country flavoured refrain providing the bare minimum of a platform to let Wolfe’s hypnotic, soaring voice to caress, to croon and mourn. Fans of her heavier work may find Birth Of Violence a bit of a shock as this sets the tone for the musical landscape ahead. Over the 11 tracks (the final being the sound of a thunderstorm to close out in a moody and downbeat fashion) the power and weight of this album comes in the lyrics and their delivery with soul searing honesty like:
Afraid to live, afraid to die
Building a broken but precious web
Like a spider in Chernobyl
And when the cattle low
Something is on the horizon
It’s well documented that 2006 album Mistake In Parting was scrapped as it was essentially a diary of previous real life events and yet over the years she has dropped some dark invocations that could be linked to her personal life and none so much as on this album.
Wolfe’s voice echoes with sorrow and yet menace as she delivers lines like “But you won’t get away with it honey, No, you’ll never come close to me…”
Birth Of Violence could be littered with references to the grind of a long touring schedule and the need to connect back to her roots or it could just be a listlessness of the soul. However when she intones “I guess I needed something to shake me up” it is hard not to feel it down to the core and when accompanied by the slightly queasy electronics that usher in the build-up, the listener is spiraled out of the their comfort zone as Wolfe takes your hand on this journey.
Musically this album would probably sit happily next to work by the late Townes Van Zandt as the sombre, retained tone relies on the elegant country folk to wash over you and allow Wolfe to act as Shamaness tour guide and confessor to her inner angels and demons.
This is most prevalent on the title track itself where Wolfe’s voice echoes with sorrow and yet menace as she delivers lines like “But you won’t get away with it honey, No, you’ll never come close to me…” The previous use of electronics are understated and merely serve to augment the strumming of the guitar, the scratching of fingers on strings and, of course, that stunning voice.
It is not until track four Deranged For Rock & Roll that the album even offers a nod towards something heavier but even in this moment it’s more a vocal power showcase that harks back to the latter day Neurosis influence over shuffling drums and orchestral strings rather than distortion.
Tracks like Dirt Universe, My Little Grave and Highway hint at a loneliness and isolation that somehow are intimately shared with the listener, both painful and yet incredibly beautiful as Wolfe’s silken tones offers themes that haunt from start to finish.
There are moments however where the similar groove of the songs can cause the attention to wonder. This album almost demands you focus more on the lyrical content than the underpinning melodies and as a result, some of it can get lost in the flow. This is not really a criticism as even as a backing soundtrack the quality remains high, but as I said earlier casual listeners drawn to Wolfe by her heavier dalliances may find this paired back approach difficult to accept or not quite want they had expected.
However, giving this album a chance and being familiar, or open, to this style will reward with a rich and deep look into the psyche of this dark and incredibly talented songwriter.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden