Pain Is Beauty
Sargent House (2013)
Pain is Beauty, the fourth proper release from Sacramento-born singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, is a cathartic march through the annals of her mind. Her distinct sound, blending elements of neo-folk, drone, goth and industrial, comes into its own on Pain. Trading in the candlelight acoustic soundscapes from 2012’s Unknown Rooms, Wolfe incorporates electronic bursts and encompassing support from her eponymous full band. Pain hearkens back to her 2011 release Apokalypsis, with Wolfe now exhibiting more focused song execution without the loss of ambiance.
The first half of the album follows familiar song structures. Hook-driven tracks like “We Hit A Wall” and “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” are steeped in Wolfe’s signature dark romanticism. Her vocals are often disguised by distortion and haze, softly bouncing over the cold landscape of each melody. “The Warden” cruises effortlessly and plays as a beat-driven, post-punk anthem.
Pain takes off in a new direction, starting with “Sick” halfway through the track listing. Wolfe shrouds the more conventional songwriting found early in the record for pulse-pounding and spacious build-ups. “Reins” opens with haunting crooning; the bass drum kicks are crushing, and the song spirals into a crescendo of sonic power that rivals any of Wolfe’s prior output.
The record comes to a heart-wrenching apex with “The Waves Have Come,” the penultimate track of Pain, which clocks in at longer than eight minutes. A driving piano riff cradles the various cadence changes. Her chilling and transformative vocal range shines as she croons, “You said to me it won’t be long now / You’ll leave the world and you will join me here.” We join Chelsea, wherever “here” may be, throughout Pain’s hour-long trudge through the darkness of her mind. Her agony is palpable, and at its core, Pain succeeds greatly in creating stirring imagery for the listener. It is an emotionally exhaustive and consuming record; a declaration from Wolfe of the splendor found in ruin.
Review by Daniel Gelb