“Run from the light” is the sort instruction you’d expect from Chelsea Wolfe. She’s made a career at the spooky edges of drone, metal and folk, and her sound is the stuff of cobwebby hallways, dark forests hiding cursed lovers. The narrative pieces are never direct, but her music exudes a haunting feeling of doom and romance.
The difference with Pain is Beauty is that Wolfe isn’t interested in resting on “creepy.” Building her sound from layers of droning synths, crisp percussion and hypnotic strings, Wolfe harnesses a dark glamour, not too far removed from the sort of misty, doom-laden orchestral power rock of ’80s fantasy films like Ladyhawke or Labyrinth. “The Warden” threads an ethereal melody over the industrial drive of programmed beats, juxtaposing expansive beauty with violence and gloom.
There is nothing campy about Wolfe’s conviction, however, and she is more concerned with the weight of the heart than the tingle of the spine. On “The Waves Have Come,” Wolfe howls and harmonizes with reckless abandon. Clocking in at eight minutes, the song is a slow build suite that grows with foggy purpose until it reaches an overwhelming tipping point: “Never to return to me,” Wolfe sings over and over in reverbed layers that die out. It is maybe the most vulnerable and powerful moment in Wolfe’s career.