It is hard to file Chelsea Wolfe under a specific genre. Part Joni Mitchell-esque singer-songwriter folk and part all encompassing doom metal riffing, Wolfe has certainly carved out her own niche in today’s overcrowded musical landscape.
There were some doubts, however, about if she would be able to translate her both crushingly heavy and mesmerisingly ethereal sound on record, to a live environment. All doubts were completely trampled on however as soon as she walked onto the stage to a barrage of abrasive noise and slowly enchanted Brighton under a spell of the most nightmarish kind.
The title of Wolfe’s third album ‘Pain is Beauty’ is a good way of describing the evening. Just from the concerts unsettling and strobe-heavy opener, ‘Feral Love’ you could tell that the proceeding hour was going to take the form of an all-encompassing emotional exorcism that both deeply disturbed yet provided moments of tortured gothic beauty.
Instrumentally, the band seemed to have the pure intent of disconcerting and assaulting the audience with every note played. Guitars howled through heavy distortion, sending out wall upon wall of thick, unrelenting sonic noise whilst snare drums were stricken with enough devastating force to send traumas throughout your body.
Quiet and emotive guitar lines gave way to yet more blasts of cacophonous noise that ricocheted it’s way through every corner of the building leaving you with a performance that was almost impossible to not be completely immersed in. This was truly claustrophobic music, giving off the aural equivalent of drowning in tar. This was only helped by the fact that the evening was comfortably the busiest I had ever seen The Haunt be, leading everyone to be packed uncomfortably close together as the capacity pushed close to breaking point.
Whilst all this would head lead to the performance of a particularly impressive doom metal band, it is Wolfe herself that truly pushes the evening into becoming spellbindingly bewitching. Her voice is a thing of hypnotic wonder. She sounds both passionate and compelling yet vulnerable and pained.
More stripped back songs like the pained romance of ‘We Hit a Wall’ are where the full extent of her vocal range comes to the fore. Her soothing siren-like cry is almost as empowering as the instrumentation in moments like this, and the sheer emotion and longing in her voice completely dismantles you. When she reaches out her hand to the audience, it is like she is reaching out to every single person in attendance individually, craving for an end to the emotional turmoil she is showcasing through her song.
It is when her voice blends with the full harrowing force of her band that the concert really gets transported to a whole new level. Songs like current career highlight ‘Iron Moon’ contrast Wolfe’s harrowing quivers with almighty guitar riffing that sound like waves violently crashing against rocks. Only a bigger wave breaks every time the song reaches it’s devastating sonic explosion of a chorus, sending white water cascading over the crowd in shades of indigo and amethyst as Wolfe mournfully wails with potent anguish.
This could be the soundtrack to a Bosch painting, scenes of nightmarish and horrifying imagery that still have a chink of light in them shining through. By the time the band silently leave the stage to the strains of the disconcerting chiming clamour they have created, the audience are little more than a drained and battered mess utterly engrossed in the trance Chelsea Wolfe had put them in. When the noise stops the spell is broken, and the crowd turn to walk apprehensively away as if in a daze, knowing that there won’t be a concert in Brighton as emotionally affecting as this in a very long time.