Chelsea Wolfe‘s respected and increasingly revered status within, and outside, the metal scene has steadily grown in recent years. From humble beginnings of her experimental goth-folk early works, to the enchanting Pain is Beauty, Wolfe really hit her stride on 2015’s eclectic masterwork, Abyss. A multifaceted album; challenging, bleak, heartbreaking, beautiful, and jarringly heavy, it’s an album I hold in extremely high regard. Follow-up album, 2017’s Hiss Spun, added another darkly diverse chapter to her repertoire, leaning heavily into Wolfe‘s doomy inclinations, with strong results.

Not for the first time in her career, Wolfe, ever the Gothic chameleon, returned to a more restrained, stripped back acoustic form on Birth of Violence. At her best and most creative, Wolfe thrives on exploring a myriad of styles and influences within a cohesive, focused songwriting context. Nevertheless, she’s always had a gift of crafting ghostly ballads, and the acoustic format works well with her gorgeous, understated singing voice, wintry tones, and emotive delivery. Regardless of the form of music she is creating, Wolfe‘s songwriting has a welcoming infectiousness and depth, enticing the listener into her enchanting web.

A strong opener is always welcome, especially when it means forgoing pointless or meandering intro tracks. “The Mother Road” fits the bill, beginning an album full of emotional intensity, delicate musicality, subtle hooks and melodies, with a darkly upbeat and instantly catchy acoustic anthem. Sparse and stripped down to showcase Wolfe‘s ever improving and magnetic voice, “Birth of Violence” builds towards a climactic swell, loaded with ominous tension and bleak, ghostly vibes. Wolfe remains an enchantress of melancholy, raw nerve honesty, and memorable songcraft, regardless of the musical form she gravitates towards. However, even in a more musically relaxed format, Wolfe undercuts the mellowness with a shroud of darkness and an underlying sinister tone.

Despite being stripped down to bare basics, there’s impressive attention to detail and depth behind Birth of Violence, the musical backdrop filled with subtle details, behind rich and sparsely orchestrated compositions. While perhaps less compelling on a song to song level than some of her strongest offerings, Birth of Violence is lean, compact and always highly listenable, interspersed with some genuinely stunning highlights, such as the hauntingly beautiful “Highway,” enchanting “Be All Things,” and infectious, darkly foreboding, “Deranged for Rock & Roll.” Birth of Violence is potent mood music and a cathartic listening experience, further consolidating Wolfe as one of my favorite current artists outside the metal realms.

Birth of Violence isn’t my favorite Chelsea Wolfe album, but following a couple of experimental blockbusters, returning to her acoustic roots feels like a smart move in her always evolving and diverse career trajectory. A finely crafted, bleakly beautiful collection of acoustic tunes, Birth of Violence signals another triumph in Wolfe‘s compelling, shape-shifting career.

Tracks to Check Out: “Birth of Violence, “The Mother Road,” “Highway,” “Deranged for Rock & Roll”