Review: Chelsea Wolfe @ The Gov (Adelaide)

  • Written by  Jason Leigh
  • Wednesday, 15 June 2022 16:51
Chelsea Wolfe played The Gov (Adelaide) 13 June, 2022. Chelsea Wolfe played The Gov (Adelaide) 13 June, 2022.

Descriptive labelling is a problematic concept but if forced to define styles, Chelsea Wolfe's work for some time has been primarily in the realm of sludge metal.

Her musical style has developed from the reverbed, deliberately lo-fi goth of 2010 album 'The Grime And The Glow', through the more clearly defined doom metal of 2011's 'Apokalypsis', with occasional diversions into icy synth electro on 'Pain Is Beautiful' (2013) before settling into sludge metal on the subsequent full-length releases 'Abyss' (2015) and 'Hiss Spun' (2017).

Following a period of self-reassessment, there has been a stylistic return to her pagan-folk beginnings as demonstrated on her last album to date, 2019's 'Birth Of Violence'.

This musical evolution has occurred to the extent that the tenuous distinction between goth and metal has eroded with Chelsea successfully navigating the divide.

Live she has been primarily leaning toward stoner metal, to the slight detriment those interested in the more recent return to her roots and exploration of a wiccan folk style in which she is still finding herself.

The enforced worldwide touring pause resulting in the Chelsea's Australian tour being postponed for nearly two years from the originally scheduled dates increased anticipation for the current dates including tonight's show at The Gov (13 June).

Commencing with opening salvo of 'Feral Love', Jess Gowrie lays down a bed of pounding, hypnotic drum work while long-term collaborator Ben Chisholm on bass and Bryan Tulao on guitar contribute to an omnipresent low-end doom-hum, a musical event horizon.

From the outset, it feels as though there is no loud quiet loud here, the performance more a combined, enduring continuous art piece, an assemblage of drones weaving together in a seemingly endless aural assault.

In among the audience, there's a feeling of being trapped in amber not quite yet set, analogous to sleep paralysis. Lost within it forever, all sense of time and objective perspective falls away.

Early on Chelsea's vocals are almost entirely lost in among the hellish sonic maelstrom, it can be difficult to connect with her in this setting. But when her guitar playing leads off '16 Psyche' there are cries of appreciation from her devoted followers.

The doom mass of Black Sabbath's primal self-titled song is a template for 'Dragged Out', during which Ben wrestles his bass while Bryan, legs apart, plants himself in position for his best Tommy Iommi impression before the faster paced, eerie, industrial histrionic squeal of 'Vex'.

'House Of Metal' has a more electro goth sound, commencing with metronomic drumming before a mid-song sonic onslaught.

Throughout the set, there is no sense of the stage fright that apparently plagued Chelsea's early live endeavours; her microphone stand adorned by what appears to be a scalped horse mane, the only significant decorative embellishment on stage, is hardly something that she can hide behind and take the focus away from her.

Chelsea comes across as a confident performer save for some momentary, slightly awkward attempts to interact with the audience – an offer to "over share" is not followed through despite audience encouragement.

As the performance progresses, the strobing light show is almost blinking for you as you stare motionless, transfixed, the sonic architecture transforming and reshaping, melting into something else entirely.

'Tracks (Tall Bodies)' is a country song through a filter of heavy metal that leads directly into the acoustic folk of 'The Mother Road' with Jess on subtle percussion and Ben accompanying on rumbling bass.

Subsequently paired with the relatively restrained 'Deranged For Rock & Roll' (both tracks from the 'Birth Of Violence' album) displaying a contrasting light to the shade of the at times extreme set.

A heartbeat-sampled intro to 'After The Fall' heralds a return to the funereal dirge and Ben is especially possessed, resuming his default behaviour of throwing himself around on stage, wrestling with his bass and giving it an animistic quality.

During 'Carrion Flowers', while guitar howls and squeals soundtrack the quieter moments, a sampled ghostly backing track playing is a brief pause before there is another onslaught of doom sludge, stoner rock.

Chelsea catches her breath following the rhetorical exclamation of "should we continue?", followed by positive affirmation from the audience.

The humming drones and reserved mood of 'The Culling' is initially a welcome lull but it too is soon transformed mid-song into a sonic assault before slowing to a gradual halt.

The quieter moments later in the set are a welcome repose from the demanding grind for the band and audience alike and 'Survive' is one such song before it also descends into abstraction, a primer for the song that completes the set, the appropriately titled 'Scrape', which diverts from recognisable song structure into an exercise in near pure noise.

The contrasting solo acoustic 'Flatlands' is a beautiful single-song encore, and although it's an older song from Chelsea's repertoire, hints at what could be given her return to quiet wyrd folk material in recent times.

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