Chelsea Wolfe - Prayer for the Unborn [EP] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Chelsea Wolfe

Prayer for the Unborn [EP] (2013)

Southern Records

Prayer for the Unborn is "drone folk artist" Chelsea Wolfe's recording session from the infamous Southern Studios in the UK. On the release, she makes the daring choice to not only do an entire EP of Rudimentary Peni covers, but she also alters them drastically.

The release opens with RP's "A Handful of Dust." While the original RP version was a simple, smashing riff carousel with vocalist Nick Blinko quoting TS Eliot, Wolfe warps in considerably. She makes the backing track a percussion-less ghostly wail while she calls out the title in a goth choir. The take recreates the eerie feel from the original release in an entirely different way. While the RP version is threatening through its direct and dour message, Wolfe makes it seem like a ghostly wail that draws the listener to it, instead of Blinko's sledgehammer to the head attack.

Wolfe maintains this general approach for all of the releases five tracks. It's a wise choice. You're not going to out-slam RP. But when placed in a new, more ghostly context, the songs go from a madman's ranting to what seems like the proclamations of a prophet, all by simple re-contextualization. In true RP fashion, some of the tracks have multiple songs jammed together, making the EP flow as one piece rather than simply being a collection of RP songs. Equally wise is that Wolfe picks songs from across the RP catalogue instead of just sticking to the early classics. This allows her to avoid being a mere tribute. Rather, through her angelic/ghostly call, she uses the source material as just that and makes the performance her own, much in the way the jazz greats would borrow, morph and mutilate well-known standards. "Prayer for the Unborn" is particularly effective; the song opens with a monolithic guitar wail that sounds like a tanker crashing, while Wolfe herself laments the concept of being born itself through a voice that sounds like someone leaving earth or someone just arriving there through the birth canal. Either way, she sounds horrified.

Could songs about the curse of being alive be the new metric for expression? What does it mean that songs about the utter horror of existence itself can be shaped into so many forms? What does it mean that it's so easy for Wolfe to treat these odes to oblivion as second nature to herself?