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Live Review: Chelsea Wolfe, Heirs, Pastel Blaze

13 November 2012 | 10:10 am | Sky Kirkham

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It's still early as Pastel Blaze kick the night off to a bare venue. The band makes the best of the situation though, their sound still enjoyably raucous, but significantly more controlled than in previous outings. Lisa Nicole is an engaging frontwoman and Ili Tulloch keeps things entertaining between songs, taking audience questions (apples are apparently okay, but not as good as other fruits). The drums are perhaps a tad loud, but it's a minor complaint about a solid set.

Intermittent bursts of distortion and heavy kicks spill forth as Heirs prepare, and when they begin, it's punishing in the best possible way; loud and heavy enough to be a physical sensation. Bass pulses from the speakers in waves, joined by low-pitched and distorted guitars, and as the drums slowly build in intensity, they slip from doom, into sludge, then back into drone, all expertly done. Despite the heaviness, the doom influence, the distortion, Heirs are surprisingly melodic. Beginning most tracks with a simple idea, a basic riff on either the guitar or bass, they build around that foundation, adding layers until it reaches the climax, but never losing sight of the underpinning tune. It's powerful stuff that calls for complete attention – closed eyes and sensory deprivation – and by virtue of volume and intensity it pretty much gets it. Closing track Drain ratchets things up even further. Blast beats hammer away, joined by a wall of screaming tremolo from the guitar, while Laura Bradfield's bass continues its one simple riff, holding the track together as it threatens to collapse around her. It's an amazing set that's easily worth the price of admission alone.

The crowd has swelled by the time Chelsea Wolfe's band arrive on stage, although it's still a disappointing turnout. After some introductory atmospherics, Wolfe joins her band to launch into opening track, the haunting Movie Screen – all looped vocals and scraped cymbals. Demons and Mer soon follow, suggesting that despite the recently-released Unknown Rooms, tonight will be a showcase of her earlier albums. There's a great variety in Wolfe's compositions; ambient jazz, southern gothic rock and trip hop elements are all evident in just the first few tracks – held together with a consistent mood and sensibility. Her influences are apparent (PJ Harvey, Beth Gibbons, Angelo Badalalmenti), but she's remarkably skilled at reconfiguring them, mixing them together into something that recalls the original without seeming to emulate it. Wolfe is a singularly awkward frontwoman, spending most of the show hiding behind her hands, seemingly uncomfortable to be in front of a crowd. Fortunately, the quality of the music is high enough to make up for it, her voice all the presence she needs.