REVIEW: Lone [2014]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 52 minutes | Release Date: 2014 (USA)
Studio: Sargent House
Director(s): Mark Pellington
Writer(s): Chelsea Wolfe (lyrics) / Mark Pellington (story)

“Now I become death, destroyer of worlds”

Singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe is a creator of atmospheric sounds that encompass your very soul if allowed to consume you without the twenty-first century’s love for distraction fighting for attention. She was unfamiliar to me last year when I stumbled upon the album Pain is Beauty and its descriptor “folk metal”. It seemed an intriguing combination of genres, one I had to witness. The songs aren’t for everyone—I myself wondered whether I truly enjoyed the music even as I let it permeate my usually quick to dismiss anything that doesn’t completely engross on first listen senses. There’s a quality to her ethereal voice juxtaposed against the dense, foggy wall of noise accompanying piano and violin that won’t let go. It forces you to close your eyes and embrace the darkness within while her voice provides the light needed to safely descend.

According to Sonny Kay‘s biography on Wolfe’s Sargent House label’s website, Pain is Beauty is a “self-described love letter to nature … capitalizing on [her] trademark penchant for the morose and otherworldly.” Wolfe herself explains how the album “becomes an exploration of ancestry, how the mythology, landscapes and traditions of our ancestors affect our personalities today. … There is peace in truth. There is clarity in solitude. And there is power within simplicity and focus. Love is not always easy. Tormented love is something I understand more than society’s skewed idea of what love should be. Love is indelible, severe, earnest, merciful. To push forward against the odds is to make history”. As a result Wolfe’s music is simultaneously tortured and sensual, leading us into our recessed memories and opening us up to embrace their pain.

There’s a palpable sadness and strength in lyrics like “when you try to blind my eyes i can see tenfold / it’s nothing that my heart can’t take, ’cause your hate has made me strong / and stronger men than you have tried to break me” from “Sick”, a feeling of truth in love we can all relate to no matter gender or sexuality. Her music transcends labels to exist in a lake capable of creating life as well as destroying it. The anguish is mixed with hope despite its dark tone and imagery, perfectly lending itself to the sensibilities of a director like Mark Pellington. A veteran of film (Arlington Road) and some of the 90s’ most memorable music videos (Pearl Jam‘s “Jeremy”, Alice in Chains‘ “Rooster”, and Silverchair‘s “Tomorrow”), he’s uniquely positioned to help manufacture a visual accompaniment that enhances Wolfe’s already prominent symbolism.

Born from this partnership is the 50-minute long-form music video Lone, a collage of emotive visuals set to a selection of songs from her 2013 album bridged by more of that heavy white noise of elongated notes and electronica unearthed by producer Ben Chisholm. Her lyrics join a poetic mantra dealing with themes of ends becoming beginnings; freedom in life, love, nature, and death; and of course the fearlessness necessary to remember the past and not forget its sorrow helping us to grow and evolve. Chelsea herself wanders this abstractly surreal landscape of blacks, whites, and reds, struggling to make sense of the bloodied sheets, lost souls, and abandoned homes. Pellington saturates her in blinding light to pop her black-lined eyes as often as shadowy forestry alongside masked creatures watching and judging her internal struggle towards constant rebirth.

It will mean something different to everyone willing to take a look just as her music’s melodious weight overcomes your senses to give it your absolute attention. Pellington’s vision is populated by death—of parents, lovers, children, and the unseen—cut alongside literal oblivion courtesy of nuclear fallout footage and a world being cleansed by the Gods. He assists her words to bring our crisis of faith and morality to life, providing us an actual representation of our physical demise as well as a metaphor for that which we allow to happen emotionally after every loss of love whether familial, sexual, or heartfelt. We cover it with sheer fabric in hopes it will all go away, but the cycle continues perpetually in order for us to understand the vastness of life beyond those tiny yet devastating moments.

Lone furnishes one more vehicle for Wolfe’s powerful aural tapestry to engulf us. It’s a cinematic Rorschach test opening our eyes to the world’s destruction on a macro and micro scale to show how one is not exclusive from the other. Memories from aged home movies play with the same importance as newly minted close-ups of Wolfe and her fellow actors etched by sorrow and tears or writhing with sex as they pull a crucifix from their inviting mouths. Each frame is beautiful in its serenity, sadness, erotica, and truth—the waves of the water and the roll of fog signifying an end as well as a new beginning. We walk with Wolfe as she traverses this ever-changing climate until recognizing our vitality as individuals and a community while consciously bringing the title song to fruition:

“when the wind takes them all
away from here, away from me
when the sorrow is all gone
it is buried in the soil
when the wind takes em all
away from here away from me
when the sorrow is all gone
it is buried in the sun
when the wolves howl their song
and the whole earth is done
when the wolves howl their song
and the wind still carries on”

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