It was a simple phrase – doom-folk – that drew us to see Chelsea Wolfe tonight. Music is obviously all about just that: the music, but intriguing semantics can certainly play a part. Folk goes with doom like French champagne goes with a 3am souvlaki. In its post-hippie incarnation, folk music purports to celebrate the beautiful and the natural; doom is dark, a reminder that disappointment, not elation, is the simplest psychological state.
But a closer examination is warranted: folk music is arguably the oldest musical form in existence, the direct descendant of an era when music was the vehicle through which stories of humanity – good, bad and violently evil – were conveyed. Doom is merely the dark end of the narrative.
On stage Wolfe is flanked by guitar, keyboard, bass and drums. The stage is engulfed periodically by smoke, and the prevailing visual aesthetic is reminiscent of the gothic-punk scene of mid-’80s England. Wolfe is enigmatic, but never brusque. The band is tight as the proverbial religious metaphor. There’s ne’er a gap to be seen in the rhythm section; with such a solid foundation, there’s plenty to play with. We hear moments of early Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sisters Of Mercy. The most exhilarating moments come when the tempo is at its most intense: it’s spiritual, in a dark rock’n’roll sort of way and it’s as enchanting as a collective of goblins whipping up spells in a forest. There’s the occasional flash of metal – it’s neither heavy nor hard, but it holds the set together.
Mid-way through the gig there’s some sampling of what could have been dialogue from an obscure ’50s movie; or maybe it had been conceived and constructed specifically for Wolfe’s stage show. At the time the quotations seemed philosophical and profound; in the cold light of day, it might have just been bad poetry.
When Wolfe winds back the tempo, the atmosphere suffers commensurately. But it’s only a temporary respite. A brief interlude at the end of the set, and Wolfe and her band are back on stage. It’s dark, and it’s natural; together at last in perfect harmony.