The genre of Chelsea Wolfe is a bit hard to put down. In 2015 she released Abyss, an album that epitomized her turn from a darkly tinged folk artist into a full-fledged member of the gothic rock community. Although the music was dark and powerful, her slow tempos and vocal delivery still hearkened back to the days of her more folk-related stylings. The title of this album serves as the best possible description of her music, Wolfe’s beautifully reverberated voice is the only source of light in her black sonic landscape forged by punching distortion and primal drumming. On May 16th at the Fairmount Theatre in Montreal, Wolfe showcased the ability of her music to translate to the live setting. The night was surreal. Wolfe effortlessly combined her creepy, Halloween themed vocal whisperings with the smashing capabilities of her band, switching between unsettling intimacy and apocalyptic destruction constantly.
The night began with 30 minutes of quick-hitting, concise tunes that rocked the audience to the core. Possibly the most powerful was Abyss hit “Carrion Flowers,” a slow moving metal song with menacing instrumentals to accompany Wolfe’s decisive vocal delivery. The sliding bass part sunk into massive explosions aided by the power of the rest of the ensemble. Despite the music’s dependency on distortion and various other pedal effects, the texture surrounding her voice is astounding in its sleekness. Her bassist and guitarist were completely united rhythmically and the drummer avoided ringing cymbal sounds allowing the instrumental track to focus on the most pounding sounds possible.
In the middle, Wolfe needed to rest for five minutes due to the fact that she could “not stop coughing.” This was the only hint that she was suffering as each of the surrounding songs were performed whole heartedly. After her break, Wolfe displayed the beauty in her voice with a song beginning with a few minutes of vocal looping. The white vocal looping was slowly accompanied by the subtle darkness of the rest of the band spurring a collection of quiet tunes that starkly contrasted the beginning of the set. These quiet tunes were the most mesmerizing of the night, especially Abyss hit “Simple Death,” which encapsulated the room in a horror ridden folk aesthetic. Wolfe’s voice is astonishing in how subdued it is. She uses effects very well quietly floating in the space provided with the ability to powerfully pull through the white noise caused by the reverberations for the more gruesome moments.
Shout outs are also certainly in order to the opening act, A Dead Forest Impact, who set the tone for Wolfe’s hard-hitting performance. The band follows a similar path to the early days of Wolfe’s career. Lead singer Adam Sherry’s voice sang beautifully over the dystopian setting created by his droning guitar effects and the drum textures of his brother Sam. The slow moving songs allowed for each vocal idea to linger in the room. Also, the simple drum activity allowed for the songs to remain subdued in their nature despite the uneasiness in emotional affect. One of the highlights of the set was when Sam took a break on the drums to support Adam Sherry vocally. Although still a bit unsettling in its gloominess, the song obtained the feeling of a ballad beautifully building up with the echoing and looping vocals. The band certainly grabbed my attention.
The scene at Fairmont Theatre was perfect this week. Both artists committed to dark undertones in a very musical way. A Dead Forrest Index mesmerized with their darkly articulated, subdued folk tunes before the intensity of Chelsea Wolfe drew more bodily movement from the crowd.
-Review by Donovan Burtan