While Chelsea Wolfe’s music has often drawn from the deep, dark wells of drone, industrial, goth and doom metal, Wolfe’s sixth album, Birth of Violence, sees her lean heavily into the folk side of her sound. We haven’t heard this side of her to this extent since her 2012 compilation Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, which saw her rework some of her earliest acoustic-based songs that had been floating around the internet. It was this album that gave a home to arguably her most popular song, “Flatlands.”
This artistic decision was a conscious one, Wolfe having told Consequence of Sound of her wish to “withdraw and play these quiet, acoustic songs that feel intimate.” But don’t let this fool you; Wolfe’s work has always framed her gorgeous soprano voice in densely layered instrumentation. Birth of Violence is no different, but here, instead of thick, heavy distortion and warped electronics, we get tasteful chord progressions and swells of string arrangements and of course the world-weary emotional intensity we have grown accustomed to.

Birth of Violence is brooding, each track evoking a fantasy environment while giving off a worldly gloominess. Opener “The Mother Road” suggests a notion of roaming. Its rich guitar timbre and ethereal soundscapes lend apt backing for her sharp, pained voice relaying a journey of love and hurt (“I do not have a child/ But I’m old enough to know some pain/ And I’m hell-bent on loving you/ Women know what it’s like to endure.”) The instrumental backdrop builds with percussion, strings and a mantra of “bloom and eclipse them/ Wake up and transform.” As the flourishes of violin melt into air, we are left with Wolfe’s defeatist chorus one last time: “Guess I needed someone to break me.”

Next is the gothic Americana of “American Darkness,” lullaby-like in arrangement. Wolfe’s voice tarries airily over a sparse, tender yet chilling arrangement. Wolfe’s dreamlike music provides room for contemplation. The minimalism of Birth of Violence juxtaposes a peaceful rapture with a pervading melancholia. Similarly, album highlight “Preface to a Dream Play” is powerful in its contrast between Wolfe’s gentle vocal and churning background noise.

Wolfe’s lyricism offers soul-searching and enlightened commentary. “American Darkness” opens with the possibly political couplet “When you come in last/ In battles long past,” while on “When Anger Turns to Honey” she solemnly sings, “They’ll hunt you/ Then they’ll haunt you/ Their anger has them under a spell.” On “Dirt Universe,” she laments her position as “the daughter of sorrow,” an oblique reference to her grandfather whose past misdeeds Wolfe has saidmessed up a lot of women in my family and I think some of that trauma has transferred to me.” The album’s heaviest moment, “Deranged for Rock & Roll,” her feverish voice is interlaced with the musical potency as the third verse reaches its crescendo: “Out of my head/ The final high/ I am yours/ And you are mine.

Birth of Violence is sublimely beautiful, pure of heart and spirit, vaporous in its warmer moments and—despite its softer sound—rock solid. Wolfe straddles spiritual and concrete worlds, jettisoning the distorted power of albums past to allow her emotional, thought-provoking songwriting to speak for itself. Though fans may miss the surface-level impressiveness, thrill and crescendo of works like Hiss Spun or Abyss, here we have moments of catch and release that have hitherto been underexplored within her oeuvre. Captivating, ethereal, contemplative and cinematic, Birth of Violence is yet another testament to Chelsea Wolfe’s versatility, sonic scope and artistic vision.

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