Live review: Chelsea Wolfe / True Widow / King Woman (17/04/2017)

I’ve wanted to see Chelsea Wolfe live for a long time. I’ve been a fan of her music for a couple of years now, and when she performed in Leeds last year I incomprehensibly decided I wasn’t able to make it. Well, when this fantastic lineup was announced for a short UK tour with a stop in Manchester’s excellent venue Gorilla, I was determined to rectify my mistake. Touring with fellow American acts True Widow and King Woman, the bands all play gripping, dark music that overlaps and diverges in different respects; but as a tour lineup, this is one of the most gripping and cohesive I’ve ever witnessed. 

The venue itself is one of my favourites. Situated only a couple of minutes from Manchester Oxford Road train station, it’s extremely convenient to get there and home again afterwards. It’s spacious inside and well-ventilated, with a big stage that puts the bands right up front and close to the audience. There’s an upstairs area at the back of the room with a few seats (usually reserved) and merch tables, as well as a small bar serving drinks. But let’s talk about the music!

The opening band were King Woman, the sludge/doom metal project of former Whirr vocalist Kristina Esfandiari. They released their debut full-length album ‘Created in the Image of Suffering’ earlier this year on Relapse Records. I’d given their album a spin a while ago, and while I’m not a huge fan of doom metal, it was a pretty good listen, so I was expecting a solid showing. The show itself was certainly enjoyable. The band’s crushingly heavy, moody doom metal reverberated throughout the room, with energetic renditions of ‘Burn’ and ‘Manna’ off their new album, as well as ‘Shame’ from their 2015 EP ‘Doubt’.

The band have great stage presence, particularly vocalist Kristina. I did get the impression that her style of vocals were an acquired taste however, and I think I might need to sit down with the album again to properly appreciate it. Drummer Joey Raygoza’s performance behind the drumkit was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The sheer skill, intensity, and passion of his performance was awe-inspiring. Though the band only played a half-hour set, it felt far shorter. Well worth seeing.

True Widow

The second band of the night were Texas’ True Widow, whose music pairs shoegaze, slowcore and even a sprinkling of post-punk. I wasn’t sure what to expect, being only somewhat familiar with their latest album AAVOLGERE, but True Widow absolutely blew me away with one of the best live shows I’ve been to in ages. The fuzzed out guitars washed over the crowd, loud but strangely soothing. The moody, melancholy atmosphere crafted was enthralling. And yet many of the songs were incredibly catchy, particularly ‘Theurgist’ and ‘Back Shredder’ off their latest record.

The highlight of the show was absolutely their rendition of ‘Blooden Horse’, an older song for them. The crushing intensity of the song was a thing to hear, the visceral intensity and emotionally crushing crescendos filling the room. The moody, dreary shoegaze piece ‘Numb Hand’ was another highlight for me. D.H. Phillips’ vibrant, shimmering guitarwork contrasts perfectly against the Nicole Estill’s work on the bass, which carried through perfectly in the mix, backed up by Slim TX’s passionate performance on the drums. True Widow absolutely killed it on stage, and I hope to be able to see them again live in the near future.

Chelsea Wolfe

Last but by no means least was the group I think many in the audience were really here for: Chelsea Wolfe. Her moody, gothic music often incorporates influences from genres such as dark folk and neo-folk, doom and black metal, acoustic, post-punk, and darkwave. Her music has seemingly transcended the borders between ‘metal’ and ‘non-metal’ music, and has clearly reached out across the pond and struck a chord with British music-lovers. The excitement in the air was palpable.

Opening with an uncompromisingly loud and haunting performance of ‘Feral Love’, followed by ‘Carrion Flowers’, the bass was so loud I could literally feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. It was dialed back a little afterwards, but the following performances of songs such as ‘Maw’ and ‘We Hit A Wall’ were evocative, moving and utterly enthralling; the understated minimalism of ‘After The Fall’ and its magnificent crescendo was stunning, while ‘Simple Death’ was beautiful and moving in a profoundly bleak way. There were also two new songs supposedly titled ‘The Culling’ and ‘Static Hum’, which sounded great.

Her vocal performance was perfect throughout the show, her uniquely haunting vocals as convincing live as they are on record. Their live show was incredibly professional, passionate and well-orchestrated from start to finish. Closing with haunting, moving renditions of ‘Tracks (Tall Bodies)’ and ‘Moses’, Chelsea Wolfe left the stage having shaken the venue to the ground.

One of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever attended. The lineup is superb, each artist complimenting the others in different respects, united in enough shared influences for the lineup to sound cohesive but diverse enough that each stands out. The performances were great, and I’d be keen to see any of these bands if they play in the UK again. The crushing doom of King Woman, moody soundscapes of True Widow, and the bleak, gothic beauty of Chelsea Wolfe are a force to be reckoned with.