The last track on Birth of Violence is a field recording of thunder, rain, and wind that lasts somewhat more than a minute. The entirety of the 11 songs preceding it are literally the calm before “The Storm,” which seem to be precisely the whole point.
Wolfe’s previous two releases, 2015’s Abyss and Hiss Spun two years later, featured collaborations with members of Russian Circles, True Widow, Queens of the Stone Age, and Aaron Turner. These efforts incorporated louder elements in her music that contrasted existing, dark themes, leading to her being embraced by the metal intelligentsia. Birth of Violence shows more commonality to her first releases, when she was a brooding singer-songwriter finding her voice.
She doesn’t just rely on previously-dormant muscle memory; she takes lessons learned from her time figuratively spent in coffeehouses as well as goth bars and applies them with a haunting emotional depth proving that heaviness doesn’t come from screaming over distorted guitars.
Ironically the song that addresses this rebellion, “Deranged for Rock & Roll,” where she concedes “this ain’t the life I chose,” is the cut that most sounds like her recent, celebrated works. The drums are cavernous; waves of psychedelic guitar wash over the song and her breathy vocals. If this is the album that returns Wolfe to her roots, this is the transitional tune that makes the transformation less jarring.
“The Mother Road,” where she likens herself to a spider in Chernobyl—an insect whose outward appearances are normal but the erratic web it spins reveals the radioactive damage it has incurred—and the self-explanatory “Highway” use the grind of touring as a metaphor for her life spiraling. Maybe not spiraling out of control, but definitely out of her comfort zone though “Dirt Universe,” where she plaintively sings “I didn’t know what was worse, the indifference or longing, the staying or the going,” it’s definitely on the cusp of something unhealthy.
Birth of Violence is a haunting, melancholic, sparse, and beautiful heresy. What began as a return to her roots instead draws on what she became—even the parts she might not have liked as much—to create an album that is greater than the sum of its parts. Her introspection is so thorough and resolute; don’t be shocked if the windstorm that concludes the record is a harbinger of things to come.