Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album, Pain is Beauty, is her best yet. In twelve songs, Wolfe strengthens her beloved satanic strains with newer, cleaner sounds. In “The Warden,” she experiments with electronic beats and creates something harsh and beautiful, pulsating with machine-gun synths and eerie lyrics (“The hole in my vision fills with you,” she sings). She follows up “The Warden” with a change in sound in “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter,” a lovely lo-fi piece that might sound like Best Coast if Bethany Cosentino were both self-aware and undead. When Wolfe returns to the quiet mournfulness that made her 2012 album Unknown Rooms so poignant in the haunting “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” and “Sick,” the songs aren’t quite as compelling or touching as her more daring work.
Wolfe ends the album boldly: the album’s penultimate track “The Waves Have Come” is a swelling eight-minute lament that swings and sways between images of love and death. A quiet piano tune builds to a chilling funeral march. “This will be ours / ‘Cause we’re the concept,” she cries. The dirge dissolves. The violins fade. The piano bleeds into Wolfe’s final track, “Lone,” which begins with inoffensive strumming. Then an electric guitar rips through the ballad.
In Pain is Beauty, Wolfe juggles metal and folk with diabolical grace. She is right when she sings “we don’t need physical things to make us feel.” We only need an album like this.