Some people opt to age gracefully, but Chelsea Wolfe has chosen to get louder, harder, and gloomier. She’s still a young 33 years old, and with each passing year and album her sound gets fuller and darker. Her seventh record is, at she told Billboard last week, her most personal, which explains why Hiss Spun is also her heaviest and most menacing effort. It is not for the faint of heart, but for those who make it though the 12-song, 48-minute masterpiece will be rewarded with one of the most hypnotic and rewarding experiences of the year.
The walls come crashing in immediately on the doom-metal banger “Spun”. As the reverb filters through the wailing guitar and thunderous bass, Wolfe’s ethereal vocals pierces through the impenetrable wall of noise. The song, though, is the trip inside the mind of a person searching endlessly for answers. Searching for herself.
“My problem is their downthrow and upheaval,
And my inquiry is as to their working.
And my effort is their self-expression,
But I was only rock, dust, water, and ice
And animal instincts all along.
The psychological journey continues on the captivating and hypnotic “16 Psyche”. On this number, Wolfe goes nuclear, as the instruments rage intensely around her shallow but gripping vocals. Her voice belongs to one fighting the enticement of settling and who feels liberated by not being chained down.
“I feel it crawl up my legs.
Let me wrap you up in these thighs.
It gets me out of my head again.”
In her uniquely dark approach, Wolfe achieves a sense of sensuality on the brooding “Vex”. Her tantalizing vocals draws listeners into a moonlit trance for the first half of the song. The tranquil spell, however, is then interrupted by Aaron Turner’s bellowing howls. Together it creates an intense dynamic where the listener feels like prey hunted by these nocturnal wildlings.
“The Culling” offers a moment of reprieve. A mellower and more melodic approach is at first adopted with the electric guitar humming in the background and the rhythms pacing slowly but steadily. It then builds into a slow burner, as Wolfe slightly opens the curtain to her private life. She specifically speaks about her family, and the wounds they inflicted upon her.
“I’ll never tell the secrets of my family.
Bled out, a cult of anonymity.
The kettle is wheeling, my love,
Riding on the back of a hell they caused.
If “The Culling” is the pain, “Particle Flux” is Wolfe’s long escape. Her story, though, does not solely belong to her, but she shares it with anyone who has been wounded. As the doom electronica pulsates like thunder, Wolfe sings emotionally, “Made it through oblivion, then they close the door. On a lonely road again, we’ve been on before.” The foreboding but deeply mesmerizing “Scrape“ also unveils a bit more of her family’s past. As her voice ranges from aggressive to stunning to piercingly urgent, the song, as Wolfe told Revolver, centers around her great-grandfather, who was a pedophile, and how he “fucked up every woman in my family.” It is a startling admission by the fiercely private Wolfe, and the tale adds to the song’s intensity.
The gentle ballad, “Twin Fawn”, provides a moment of literary escape, as Wolfe offers a beautiful fairy tale of unchartered love. The languid “Two Spirit” similarly travels down the path of cinematic literature, as Wolfe unveils a Western tune but spun through a doom-metal framework. As the acoustic guitar strums in the foreground, Wolfe mournfully sings about atonement, revenge, and love. On “Static Hum”, however, a more harrowing and frighteningly real tale is told. This time, Wolfe shares the story of one being sacrificed in the name of war. The song also represents one of the few occasions where Wolfe looks far and beyond and comments on the state of the world.
Then there is the eerily but gorgeously seductive “Offering”. Hovering strings and martial percussion create a spellbinding, cinematic soundscape, drawing us slowly into the Wolfe’s lair. Here, she peels away the masks and reveals her nakedness to us. Her lush and vulnerable voice represents one making a sacrifice – or being it. But for what and to whom? Her lyrics are mysterious, as she speaks to a lover, to Earth, and to the gods.
The biggest sacrifice, however, is the one Wolfe has made, as she has opened herself up to the world to see and hear. The glimpses insider her mind and her family are startling. In addition, her brutal honesty presents lessons for us all, which is something one would not necessarily associate with a dark and cathartic album such as Hiss Spun. But this is Chelsea Wolfe, who for more than a decade has shocked the world with her harrowing broodiness and beautiful bleakness. This time, though, she lets in a bit of light and, thus, a glimmer of hope.
Hiss Spun is out now via Sargent House, and it can be ordered here and from Bandcamp. The album was recorded with long-time collaborator and bassist Ben Chisholm, drummer Jess Gowrie, and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen.
Wolfe’s North American tour is underway, and dates and information are available here.
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