The music business is ugly, hard, and not for everyone. You hear this over and over from industry types and even some artists. Still, it’s hard to not pine for the days when record labels were really putting a priority on A & R (artist and repertoire), and nurturing tomorrow’s important groundbreaking artists. Sargent House is one of the few labels that allows talented people to find themselves over and over again. They release music that makes it easy to care and be passionate as fans. Like the iconic graphic on their logo, sometimes you get the snake, sometimes you get the sweet cup of wine. Once in a while, both. One of those artists you get both sweet and bitter with is the fantastic enigma that is Chelsea Wolfe.
While the crushing Hiss Spun could level you with low frequency sonics and doomy riffs, coupled with her haunting voice, the entirety of the new album Birth of Violence is super chillaxed and introspective by comparison to even her previous quiet efforts. As she tends to shift from album to album skewing to slightly different flavors of her style, she sheds her skin every to get the next bit of poison out, and into our souls.
Written in near solitude in her Northern California home, retreating from the world after feeling burned out from the road and the business (there is that word again), the sound of Birth of Violence feels like it might have been inspired by long drives, secret spots, moss beds on rocks, Redwood trees, mountain air, and many dawns and dusks spent looking for something not easily found. The essence of this can be heard in finger-style guitar passages, felt in somber bass lines, mournful piano notes, and minimal percussion. Occasionally, you get some strings and some otherworldly synths and séance-worthy material as the backdrop. Her vocals on top of the songs, harmonizing at times, unifying for emphasis at crucial moments. Exquisite melodies far above conventional music shows off her dynamic range, but it’s not a stunt show. She can do anything she wants it seems but doesn’t have to let you know she knows it.
From the warning chords of ‘The Mother Road’, the eerie ‘American Darkness’, the witchy folk of ‘Be All Things’, to the Psychedelic lilt of ‘When Anger Turns To Honey’; this album just guts you. Every note, every beat has a place and nothing feels repetitious, or even in most standard song forms. It definitely flows from the well of the Gothic, dark Americana that has been part of her style for nearly a decade. ‘Dirt Universe’ might be one of her finest songs she has ever put down, with an achingly slow pace, a barely-there shuffle beat and just that voice. Get ready to get all in your feelings on this one, this sad but hopeful music healing you for whatever comes next. Punched in the neck one minute, you feel the breath of life come back to you in the next, as the ‘Storm’ passes over in the final seconds of the record.
Ranging from a delicate coo to a floating Operatic wail, and back down to brassy and dramatic alto-range ruminations, her voice is astounding. One of the most powerful and present singers today, Chelsea Wolfe re-examines what heavy music can be, without being all that loud or really heavy at all.
We are lucky to have a talent of Chelsea Wolfe’s caliber living in our time. To see an artist with no limitations, only armed with these singular stories told only as she can, this is really gratifying. Easily one of the most complete albums start to finish in 2019.
9 / 10