LIVE: Chelsea Wolfe / A Dead Forest Index @ Islington Assembly Hall, London

By Glen Bushell

There are very few artists in this world like Chelsea Wolfe. Her music is bleak and stirring, sometimes leading you to feel uneasy. On the flip side of that, it is also quite beautiful, and even comforting when it wants to be. It is fitting that on a miserable, wet November evening, she should be performing in the grandiose surroundings of Assembly Hall in Islington; bringing her most recent album ‘Abyss’ to London for the first time.

As her confidence as a performer has grown over the years, so has her audience, and they are entirely devoted to her art. She has gone from strength to strength on each release, and pushed her own sound every time. ‘Abyss’ is the most rounded, and cohesive album of her career – tackling her struggles with sleep paralysis. She has now come into her own when it comes to playing live, shedding her more introverted persona, and becoming more enchanting with every performance.

First up are New Zealand by way of London natives, A Dead Forest Index. They attempt to cast a dark shadow across tonight’s audience from the outset. Opening for someone as enigmatic as Chelsea Wolfe is no easy feat, but they don’t hold back, and make their presence in the room known. The two-piece manage to create a thick, droning tone, despite their minimalistic set. It takes a while for them to fully engross the audience, but by the end of the set, their brooding sound has gained a sea of intrigued ears. They certainly show a great deal of promise, and their debut album for Sargent House (releasing next year) will be something to look forward to.

As the lights go down for Chelsea Wolfe’s arrival, the air is rife with anticipation. The razor-sharp opening riff of ‘Carrion Flowers’ eventually booms from the speakers, and within seconds, it is impossible to look away from the stage. Head to toe in black, Wolfe is mesmerising with both her presence and vocal delivery. Her range falls somewhere between PJ Harvey and Kate Bush, but with a far more desolate and suffocating soundtrack underneath. The unsettling heaviness of ‘Dragged Out’ sits perfectly alongside the ethereal ‘We Hit a Wall’, and shows the progression she has made from 2013’s ‘Pain Is Beauty’ to ‘Abyss’.

While the main focal point is Wolfe herself, the rest of her band is air tight. Long-time collaborator Ben Chisholm switches instruments at the blink of an eye; adding subtle hues of electronica to ‘After the Fall’, and a looming bassline to a spellbinding rendition of ‘House of Metal’. Understandably, tonight’s set is heavy on ‘Abyss’ – with eight of the albums eleven tracks being aired. The album is undeniably her heaviest to date, but live it sounds simply monolithic. ‘Iron Moon’ is crushing as it echoes around the hall, and ‘Survive’ proves to be a 6-minute aural assault in this setting.

A woman of few words, Chelsea Wolfe only addresses the crowd to thank themnand A Dead Forest Index. There’s no need for her to say anything else tonight, her music says more than enough. Tonight was a magical performance from one of the most original, and interesting artists in modern music.