The queue for the Button Factory stretches around the corner and is attracting some quizzical looks. It’s not often that you see hundreds of people turn up to a relatively small gig at the same time, but such is the anticipation for tonight’s double headline set that everyone seems to have forgone the whole ‘fashionably late’ thing and for a chance to hear Chelsea Wolfe. And with good reason, too.
After her show at the Sugar Club in support of last year’s acoustic detour, Unknown Rooms, earlier in the year, Wolfe returns to give a first Irish airing to fourth LP Pain Is Beauty, a gnarled, beating heart of an album that is safely among the year’s best. Backed by three men doing their best impression of a gothic Kraftwerk with their severe haircuts and buttoned-up black shirts, Wolfe tears into ‘We Hit a Wall’, a defiantly pummeling account of a relationship coming to a frustrating impasse. It doesn’t do much to catch the attention, apparently; chatter swelling as the late arrival filter in.
But for a couple of songs, the set takes exclusively from Pain, which, for all its thematic darkness, may not be heavy enough for a good portion of the audience. The majority of them are partly reformed goths and metalheads, and their general aesthetic is something like if Bon Iver decided “Fuck a log cabin, I’mma read some Poe instead”. Attentive and respectful for the most part, but it’s clear that numbers such as ‘Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter’ and ‘Kings’ aren’t grabbing the dissenters by the collar and telling them to shut up.
The agonising beauty of ‘Reins’ has more success in doing so, while ‘Sick’ sets everyone on edge before drawing them in closer for its hushed coda of bubbling toxicity. It comes to the truly heartbreaking ‘Lone’ to full enrapture, however. Wolfe’s voice glides to some higher celestial plane far above the Dublin sky with every piercing coo, her band nowhere to be seen during the set’s penultimate entry. It’s simply stunning. Bodies are seized by goosebumps and rooted to the spot, eyes fixed on Wolfe as she loses herself in this otherworldly hymnal.
The muffled thanks yous and goodbyes she does part with really make one wonder how someone so obviously adverse to the stage could produce a three-minute performance so perfect, but shock is not enough to dispel the towering wonder of ‘Lone’ as the floor empties towards the bars and toilets.
Having released their celebrated sixth album last week, Russian Circles come here as conquering heroes, and a noticeably denser crowd is baying to hear how Memorial sounds in a live setting. To begin with, violent drums and heavy riffage reign without the intricacy their glowing reputation affords them. There are no circle pits formed, little use of devil’s horns and next to no head banging but it all sounds rather orthodox.
The new album bends towards Wolfe’s exposed vulnerability (she features on the closing title track), but as the set progresses the overarching influence is clearly Explosions in the Sky, and their brand of slow-release euphoria but given a darker post-metal makeover. It sounds like a feast for the ears created with painstaking effort and ingenuity but remains unfamiliar to State’s ears. It’s time to catch up.