Without knowing the album name, one would find Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe‘s fourth studio album to represent “heart” in all its forms: one that pulses, breaks, mends, and bursts. Pain Is Beauty is a rightfully fitting name for the haunting, wonderfully rich 12-tune compilation released earlier this month. Though some may write her off as simply “gothic” or “dark,” Wolfe somehow morphs into something else entirely——an otherworldly force of nature who hypnotizes and pleasantly surprises listeners with the pure sound of her voice.


She promised electronic elements on this record, and electronics she certainly delivers: “Feral Love” is a synthy, helicopter-chopper of an opening. That moodiness is echoed in “House of Metal,” which is layered by a sweet melody driven first by the dings of a xylophone, then harmonious violins, then a marching syncopated drum, finished off with just a calming hum. “The Warden” kicks things up a notch with a racing beat, backed by spooky dulcimers. Something about its mood makes it apt for a run through dark Parisian streets. It’s a wonder.

Then, Wolfe composes a combustible tune with “Sick,” layering interspersing drums with eerie high notes, but the song takes a surprising turn as the drums die away and a bass-driven synth melody floods the gates. Wolfe’s “we carry on” refrain is so moving, you would have never known she once suffered stage fright. This song is a story all its own.

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Next comes the dizzying “Kings,” then the siren-like atmosphere of “Reins,” which is——another aural surprise——tied together with a quickening pace of guitar and piano chords. Wolfe finishes off the album in a suitelike style: there’s doomy tear-jerker “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone”; epic ballad “The Waves Have Come”; and finally, “Lone,” a shorter folk-inspired song composed simply of Wolfe’s sweet singing and a strumming guitar. This suite hones in on one of the album’s central themes: nature.

It’s difficult to imagine people receiving Pain is Beauty negatively, as it is a timeless reminder of individuality. Wolfe is a truly incomparable artist who remains committed to her vision. Through unearthing the beauty in pain and through her artistic range and willingness to experiment, Chelsea Wolfe is the master of her own stories; the author of her own truth.

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Pain is Beauty is out now Sargent House on and available for purchase on iTunes. Chelsea Wolfe is scheduled to perform at the Bowery Ballroom on September 13.

All photos are from the Chelsea Wolfe website.