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Chelsea Wolfe has always been a conduit for a powerful energy, and while she has demonstrated a capacity to channel that somber beauty into a variety of forms, her gift as a songwriter is never more apparent than when she strips her songs down to a few key components. As a result, her solemn majesty and ominous elegance are more potent than ever on Birth of Violence.
There is a core element to Chelsea Wolfe’s music—a kind of urgent spin on America’s desolation blues—that’s existed throughout the entirety of her career. At the center, there has always been Wolfe’s woeful longing and beguiling gravity, though the framework for compositions has continuously evolved based on whatever resources were available. Her austere beginnings were gradually bolstered by electronics and filled out with full-band arrangements. The music became increasingly dense and more centered around live performances. Her latest album, Birth of Violence, is a return to the reclusive nature of her earlier recordings
“I’ve been in a state of constant motion for the past eight years or so; touring, moving, playing new stages, exploring new places and meeting new people—an incredible time of learning and growing as a musician and performer,” Wolfe says of the era leading up to Birth of Violence. “But after awhile, I was beginning to lose a part of myself. I needed to take some time away from the road to get my head straight, to learn to take better care of myself, and to write and record as much as I can while I have ‘Mercury in my hands,’ as a wise friend put it.“ Birth of Violence is the result of this step out of the limelight. The songs stem from humble beginnings—little more than Wolfe’s voice and her Taylor acoustic guitar. Her longtime musical collaborator Ben Chisholm recorded the songs on a makeshift studio and helped fill them out with his modern production treatments and the occasional auxiliary flourish from ongoing contributors Jess Gowrie (drums) and Ezra Buchla (viola).
The album opens with “The Mother Road,” a harrowing ode to Route 66 that immediately addresses Wolfe’s metaphoric white line fever. It explains the nature of the record—the impact of countless miles and perpetual exhaustion—and the desire to find the road back home, back to one’s roots. Songs like “Deranged for Rock & Roll” and “Highway” offers parallel examinations on the trials and tribulations of her journeys while the ghostly “When Anger Turns to Honey” serves as a rebuttal to self-appointed judges.
While the record touches upon tradition, it also exists in the present, addressing modern tragedies such as school shootings in the minor-key lullaby “Little Grave” and the poisoning of the planet on the dark wind-swept ballad “Erde.” But the record is at its most poignant when Wolfe withdraws into her own world of enigmatic and elusive autobiography. Much like Alan Ginsberg’s hallucinatory long-form poem Howl, the tracks “Dirt Universe” and “Birth of Violence” weave together specific references from her past into an esoteric overview of the state of mankind. Though the lyrical minutiae remain secret, the overall power of the language and delivery is bound to haunt the listener with both its grace and tension.
“These songs came to me in a whirlwind and I knew I needed to record them soon, and also really needed a break from the road,” Wolfe says. “I’ve spent the past few years looking for the feeling of home; looking for places that felt like home. The result of that humble approach yields Wolfe’s most devastating work to date.
1 The Mother Road
2 American Darkness
3 Birth Of Violence
4 Deranged For Rock & Roll
5 Be All Things
7 When Anger Turns To Honey
8 Dirt Universe
9 Little Grave
10 Preface To A Dream Play
12 The Storm