By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two boundary pushing artists that have put their respective mark on heavy music bring their tandem tour to San Francisco Sunday when gothic doomstress Chelsea Wolfe and post-metal trio Russian Circles share the stage at the Regency Ballroom.
Raised in the small Sacramento area city of Roseville, Wolfe was writing poetry by the time she was seven and turned to writing gothic modern R&B songs (her father, a working county musician, bought her a Tacscam 8-track recorder) before she reached the age of 10. Influenced by both her grandmother’s embrace of alternative medicine and philosophies and the delinquency contributed by her older sisters — she was drinking malt liquor prior to her teens — Wolfe would also draw on the treatment she received for sleep paralysis for musical inspiration.
While she made an abortive attempt at recording her first album in a singer-songwriter mode when she was 21, an unreleased effort that she later dismissed as “over produced” and too personal. Her proper debut recording would come several years later after she toured Europe with a troupe of performance artists playing unusual venues. The Grime and the Glow in 2010 showcased Wolfe’s dark vision that layered her delicate, melodic vocals and spare guitar over menacing, ethereal atmospheres and flashes of abrasive noise that recalled the dramatic work of Nick Cave, Michael Gira’s Swans and PJ Harvey.
She would expand her musical palette on Apokalypsis, balancing dreamy balladry with pounding drums and howling guitars that edged closer to the black-metal influences she would later embrace. Working with longtime bandmate Ben Chisholm, Wolfe created a wide-ranging body of work that spanned from stark acoustic songs (including an EP of tunes by anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni) to the electronic-tinged gothic chamber rock of 2013’s Pain is Beauty — her first for noted imprint Sargent House Records — to the more metallic, doom-laden anthems of The Abyss two years later.
Wolfe has proven her self to be open to experimentation, whether on her own albums or working on outside projects like Blood Moon, a series of four live performances in 2016 with post-hardcore act Converge where she and Chisholm played rarely aired Converge songs alongside Stephen Brodsky of Cave-In and Steve Von Till of Neurosis. Her most recent album, last year’s Hiss Spun, was recorded with Converge guitarist and noted producer Kurt Ballou and features contributions from Troy Van Leeuwen (Failure, Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle) and Aaron Turner (Isis, Sumac). The album has been widely hailed as her heaviest yet, but lost none of the nuance and pathos of her past work.
Wolfe’s current tour partners her with label mates, past tourmates and collaborators Russian Circles. For the better part of the past 15 years, the Chicago-based instrumental trio has been one of the key players if the Midwestern city’s fertile experimental metal scene. Founded in 2004 by guitarist Mike Sullivan and original bassist Colin DeKuiper after their math-rock band Dakota/Dakota dissolved, the two musicians recruited metal drummer David Turncrantz and started exploring cinematic sonic territory that nodded to Chicago post-rock pioneers Tortoise and similarly heavy instrumental act Pelican.
The group would part ways with DeKuiper in 2008, bringing former Botch/These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook on board for the recording of their second album, Station. With its line-up solidified, the trio has refined its slowly blossoming style of atmospheric post-metal to majestic new heights.
Also recording for independent label Sergeant House since the release of the band’s fourth effort Empros in 2011, the trio has continued to build on it’s loyal fan base. Though the group has yet to release a studio follow-up to its most recent elegiac album Memorial from 2016 (though they did issue its first concert recording Live at Dunk! Fest last year), fans quickly sold out the Great American Music Hall to see Russian Circles earlier this year. The pairing of the two groundbreaking bands at the Regency Ballroom Sunday night looks to be an early highlight of the fall concert season in San Francisco.
Chelsea Wolfe and Russian Circles
Sunday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. $25-$30