Chelsea Wolfe

Abyss

Written by: AP on 05/11/2015 12:30:37

Who would have thought that one of the heaviest records of the year should be the produce of a singer-songwriter? A critics' darling since unleashing her unique fusions of folk with noise rock and drone metal on 2011's "Ἀποκάλυψις" (stylised from Apokalypsis), the trajectory of 31 year-old Chelsea Wolfe's career is in meteoric ascent, yet with curious irony, the style of her music seems only to be growing darker, doomier and more crushing as this latest opus "Abyss" avows. Unexpected this is not, however, as Wolfe's interest in the obscure is a poorly kept secret: she enjoys some reverence in metal circles for her cover of Burzum's "Black Spell of Destruction", and two years ago, she made a stunning cameo on "Memorial", the title track to Russian Circles' 2013 album. The fact that Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley publicly and frequently voices his admiration for Wolfe's music on social media has probably played a role in shaping her sound as well, though on "Abyss", Wolfe's penchant for the monumental and the apocalyptic reaches another dimension and cements her music as unique.

Just as on previous efforts, "Abyss" features Wolfe's longtime collaborator, multi-instrumentalist and co-writer Ben Chisholm, regular drummer Dylan Fujioka, and viola player Ezra Buchla as the backbone. Providing the real difference now is the introduction of Mike Sullivan, guitarist of the already mentioned Russian Circles, to the instrumental ensemble, as well as the decision to outsource production from Chisholm to John Congleton (renowned for his work with artists such as Explosions in the Sky, St. Vincent and Swans). As a result, the music sounds definitively bigger and more imposing than ever, giving her self professed label doom singer-songwriter serious credence. The weight of the ominously pulsating bass and tribally pounding drums in opening track "Carrion Flowers" is downright terrifying, Wolfe's ethereal singing a lone ray of light within its suffocating darkness. It beckons imagery of a goddess in white, floating through some hellish nightmare world, singing to herself to keep the horror at bay, and the sensation these stark contrasts evoke is absolutely mesmerising.

Rather than instant hits, it is the variety of stylistic influences at play, and the finesse with they are woven into each other that distinguish "Abyss" as an album without equal. Whether it is the cataclysmic "Iron Moon", which sounds like a rendezvous between Portishead and Swans and beguiles you with its emotive, beautifully sung chorus "My heart is a tomb; my heart is an empty room. I've given it away, I never want to see it again. I've swallowed the iron moon"; the gently shoegazing "Maw" with its touching refrains of "Where are you?"; the string- and sample-backed longing of "Crazy Love"; or the low key balladry of "Simple Death", Chelsea Wolfe keeps the listener under lock and key, spellbound by Wolfe's angelic singing and held under savage arrest by shadowy shackles of her colleagues' doom ridden music. The true gem here is "Grey Days" though, the perfect amalgam of post-rock and trip-hop in which the presence of Sullivan in the picture is really felt, and in which Buchla's dramatic strokes of violin merge with unforgettable elegance with Wolfe's musing "How many years have I been sleeping? How many hours did I throw away? Why does everything feel so unnamed? The poison inside helps me along.".

As such the only way to experience the full potency of "Abyss" is shut eyed in solitude. You must allow yourself to be absorbed by the darkness, and then follow the sound of Wolfe's voice through the tranquillity, tension and upheaval, as with a few exceptions ("Iron Moon" and "Grey Days" in particular), the individual songs, if heard isolated, are unlikely to generate sufficient intrigue on their own. Certainly they would fail to expose the brilliant dynamics and atmospheric unity that makes "Abyss" such a rewarding listening experience. Not all of the tracks are capable of dropping jaws, but make no mistake, every single one of them serves a clear purpose in the greater context of the album. For something that is guaranteed to challenge your preconceptions about a plethora of genres, "Abyss" represents some of the most crucial listening this year.

8

Download: Carrion Flowers, Iron Moon, Grey Days, After the Fall
For the fans of: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Portishead, Swans
Listen: Facebook

Release date 07.08.2015
Sargent House

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