Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ἀποκάλυψις - Apocalypsis - Thoughts on Chelsea Wolfe's Upcoming Album

by David Metcalfe

The funeral for the recording industry is going quite well. With pyres lit across the fields, from tech savvy dance halls to the tattered fringes of ghostland, we all stand in joyous expectation as the façade falls down. Behind the veil of conflagration, Chelsea Wolfe’s voice echoes through lurking atmospherics, monastic guitar riffs, invoking goetic memories of past performers and present players. Such a lovely voice to sing the dirges of the day when music dies, and ars musica is called back from the grave.

We’ve stepped out of the mediated séance parlor of the late 20th century, with its pantomime passion for theatrical display and sleight of hand, songs are starting to sound real again. Artists are taking back the techniques stolen by corporations and conmen. If we are beginning to once more see true poesis, soon we’ll see true gods.

Wolfe’s latest expression, Ἀποκάλυψις, her second album released through Pendu Sound Recordings, leaves trite table tipping to lesser musicians in favor of summoning spirits on dead urban hillsides beneath the sidereal spin of unseen forces and the city’s dim lights. Mystery returns full force, gaining ground against the ill bent representations and mock revelations of pastiche plaguing the industrialized music scene.

As refreshing as it is, Wolfe’s work is marked by something familiar. Musical phrases reminiscent of other songs, hints of past arrangements, but heard fresh here with a sense of “this is how it should have been played the first time.” It’s this familiarity that gives Wolfe’s work such an eerie necromantic sensibility. It’s as though spirits that struggled to emerge through the flawed factory processing of past music are finally finding full release.

Her voice lulls us into the meaningless mechanization of contemporary life on Tracks (Tall Bodies), rebukes and goads on Mer, moans silver with the astral ghosts of cinema on Movie Screens, and all through out maintains a phantasmal depth and dark innocence. Friedrichshain evokes yearning over a simple rhythmic track, with her vocals split between singing the lyrics and opening aetheric gates.

This is all to say that Wolfe can actually sing. Whatever influences run through her music quickly find themselves outpaced by distinct sensibilities and phrasing. Whether surrounded by well crafted soundscapes, or simply accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, her voice is real.

It’s this sound of sincerity that gives powerful resonance to Richard Phillips’ use of the song Moses in his cinematic portrait of the performance artist Sasha Grey.

SASHA GREY from V Magazine on Vimeo.
Alan Lomax could have recorded this song, or her slow dragging dirge Wasteland, on one of his expeditions into deep Americana, these are songs every bit as real and raw. Contemporary arrangements and instrumentation aside, Wolfe succeeds where imitation fails, singing a better spiritual than heard in most contemporary churches.

As the music industry falls apart, those rising up have to have the passion to play the game without corporate support, and without the limitations of fully commercialized channels. There’s no strings attached to survival, giving a finer flavor to the arts emerging from the contest. And if it all burns out, at least we’ll have artists like Chelsea Wolfe to sing to us into the fire.


ποκάλυψις will be available August 23rd, 2011 from Pendu Sound Recordings
'Sun Through Clouds' - Photography by Zac Odin

David Metcalfe is an independent researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth.

Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. He contributes to Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Reality Sandwich, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.(Or sign up to be notified of its release on

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