Chelsea Wolfe at the Button Factory, Dublin, 25 November 2015
The house lights in Button Factory dip as a wave of industrial synths sound out the buildup to Chelsea Wolfe’s appearance onstage. What looked like a bit of darkness while the band took their places turns to be the lighting setup for the whole gig. At times all that is visible of the band is their silhouettes.
Interacting with the crowd isn’t really Chelsea Wolfe’s thing. Instead she delivers a barrage of overwhelmingly huge yet deftly controlled sound. It’s a performance carefully orchestrated in the extreme.
With her already industrial-fuelled sound it could all have become very machine-like, lacking the actual living element that’d bring fans to see a live show. But Wolfe’s music is more about atmosphere. As her set grinds on, the Button Factory is plunged into the depths of doomed darkwave dreamscape. It is dark (and not just because of the low lighting), chilling, and at times almost a little overpowering.
The Los Angeles singer-songwriter is hard to pin down. There are plenty of notable similarities to PJ Harvey’s brand of rock, but Chelsea Wolfe also draws heavily from genres like goth, metal, industrial; crushing her diverse influences together into a soundscape of hazy vocals and doom-y guitars and mesh of synths. Her latest album, ‘Abyss’ represents some of her heaviest and most industrial work to date. It’s from here she drew most of the set for Wednesday’s Button Factory Show.
Opening up on the bombastic wall of distortion and avalanche of drums that is Carrion Flower, Wolfe turned things up high for her introduction. As with many of the new album tracks, this is where Wolfe really lets rip into stoner metal territory, blasting the audience with wave after wave of uber-distorted riffage. The sound balance is all over the place, but in a way, this kind of adds to the effect. Each part ends up crashing into and melting into all the others. It adds a certain raw energy to what otherwise could have been a little sterile.
A night of guitar driven heaviness accompanying Wolfe’s ethereal vocals would probably have been worth the price of admission, but where she really comes into her is own is on the slightly more restrained numbers. The set seems to be catching its breath as Wolfe slows things down with the expansive, spacey likes of Maw and House of Metal. The gratuitous noise of earlier gives way to the delicate interplay of a pre-recorded backing tracks and an incredibly tight live band that’d give a lot of the most technical post-rockers a run for their money.
This is supreme atmosphere building. Wolfe’s haunting vocal delivery drives home the nightmarish subject matter of her lyrics, full of hopelessness, trapped souls, and pain.
Even within each song there’s more than enough room for Wolfe to develop this chiaroscuro contrast between different parts. Iron Moon seems like it’s going to come crashing back in with a full on noisy release, but even it finds space for a melancholy and echoic guitar part, in between the battering distortion.
By the end of the show, Wolfe still hasn’t had much to say to the crowd. Even her encore is a kind of anti-climax, taking things back to a more introspective, moody note (Pale on Pale; not exactly the most memorable track from ‘Apokalypsis’), rather than going out in a blaze of metal-driven instrument bashing (like Survive, which makes its appearance a few songs earlier). But this is just Wolfe doing the show her way, which it’s sort of hard not to respect. She’s got a pretty clear vision of world she wants to deliver listeners of her songs to, and her live show is all about realising that.
GoldenPlec got the chance to have a chat with Chelsea Wolfe while she was in Ireland. Check back here for the full interview soon.