Release Date: Aug 7, 2015
Record label: Sargent House
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
If you spend enough time obsessing over music, you might develop a sense for discerning the shape of a band’s creative arc. There are steps that sometimes act as milestones in a stereotypical career progression: the migration from lo-fi bedroom recordings into a professional studio, the incorporation of synthesizers into a previously guitar-driven band, the sandblasting of harsher textures and arcane structures to a pop-gloss. These gestures often constitute a Rubicon that, once crossed, signal a change in direction that is permanent, for better or for worse (Years later, an artist may attempt to connect backwards with his or her younger selves and put out a release touted as a “return to form,” but the products of such an unnatural act of necromancy are often ghoulish, like a stranger wearing a skin-suit crafted from a long-lost loved one.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Some albums introduce themselves, and the sonic world they inhabit, gradually, unfolding like the opening of a play or film, offering sweeping views of what to expect over the next hour. Other records take a more direct approach, dropping listeners right into a world of exciting, tantalising riffs and melodies.
When people talk about Chelsea Wolfe, they'll often mention that the Los Angeles musician covered the controversial Norwegian black metal artist Burzum's "Black Spell of Destruction" a few years ago, and that though she plays folk music she counts plenty of metalheads among her fans, including Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley, who regularly retweets her "Grow old and let your hair grow" adage. That line, about sticking to your given path as a lifer, shows up on Wolfe's fifth full-length, Abyss, during the smeary, intense late-album standout "Color of Blood", and it's a fitting sentiment for her heaviest (and best) collection to date. Wolfe has incorporated metallic elements into her music since the beginning—especially on 2013's Pain Is Beauty—but she's never really gone full-on metal.
The rise of US singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe from obscure enigma to… well, a much better-known enigma, has been quite dramatic, if not undeserved. Her ability to move freely from one genre to another – taking notable influence from folk, metal and gothic rock, to name but a few – has made her a compelling figure, and 2013’s Pain Is Beauty album certainly cemented a reputation for singular and charismatic songwriting. Abyss is actually an even stronger album, not only in terms of quality, but in the forcefulness of its musical discourse.
On Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe brings the heaviness in her music to the fore in a way that's more natural, and more compelling, than merely "going metal." Given the darkness and drama present even on her unplugged album Unknown Rooms -- as well as tours and collaborations with artists such as Russian Circles -- it was inevitable that she'd embrace her metal leanings more fully, but Abyss exceeds expectations. As always, she enlists old and new collaborators to help her bring these songs to their full, heavy glory. Along with her longtime bandmates Ben Chisholm and Dylan Fujioka, this time the players include Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan and True Widow's D.H.
Chelsea Wolfe’s fifth album is a distinct step away from her previous work, and sees her move into darker and more terrifying territory. Abyss draws on her experience of sleep paralysis, which presented itself in the form of hallucinations (seeing a figure in the room with her) and a feeling of pressure on the chest. However, Wolfe ordinarily stays away from purely autobiographical work and as a result, Abyss is more about channelling a feeling and exploring the idea of the subconscious than offering a personal insight.
"Doom-folk" is the kind of juxtaposed descriptor music journalists dream up to capture the sound of an artist whose style refuses easy classification, at least within the sort big-box genre labels used to program terrestrial radio. This micro-cataloging might capture the specificity of a particular release, but it runs the risk of trapping the artist in a box of critical design. Once the novelty of that sound is pushed out of the spotlight by the next big niche, the weight of genre expectations, slung around the neck of the originator, can make it difficult for the artist to keep pace with the fickle nature of public interest.
Abyss is the kind of title you'd expect from someone like Chelsea Wolfe. The Grime and the Glow, Apocalypsis, Pain Is Beauty: the LA songwriter has consistently pulled off ambitious titles, all drenched in pathos and doom. Her sensibility is rooted somewhere between those poles, a sort of post-goth romanticism for the musical omnivorous, one where images of death and pain go hand in hand with blinding passions, and genres are explored in erratic fashion.
Chelsea Wolfe’s sound may not be “heavy” in the traditional sense, but there’s something so abrasive about the arrangements on Abyss that detuned guitars aren’t required to deliver crushing music. Songs like “Iron Moon” mingle sludgy instrumentation and cacophonous noise with Wolfe’s cathartic caterwaul, while the electronic-tinged “Grey Days” adopts a tone as haunting as it is seductive. But no matter how aggressive the instrumentation, the music always manages to push things forward, as showcased by the avant-orchestral finale, “The Abyss.” JONAH BAYER .
The first taste of Abyss was "Iron Moon," dropped and drop-tuned upon the Internet like the force of a thousand doom-metal bands' extraneous guitar rigs. It was pretty clear from the first sludgy measure that Wolfe had gone full metal, giving into that long-present proclivity with absolute gusto. That moment at four minutes and 20 seconds in, just crushing heaviness in a sea of ear-splitting feedback, was presumably rewound by many a seeker of dark decibels.
It’s easy to let Chelsea Wolfe’s image shape your expectations of her music. The singer-songwriter embraces all that the goth lifestyle has to offer and then elevates it beyond Tumblr tags and locker decorations. The backs of her eyeballs shine bright white on the cover of 2011’s Apokalypsis, glowing next to her thick black eyeliner, painting her as a woman possessed.
It was inevitable that Chelsea Wolfe would come to this. Having released four albums of doom-laden folk and morbid esoterica that saw her flirt dangerously with everything from dropped tunings to lullaby fatalism, it should hardly come as a shock that the Californian’s fifth album, Abyss, has her plunging helplessly into the depths of sludge metal and industrial noise. Yet even if this descent was prophesied just beneath the seams of an Apokalypsis or a Pain Is Beauty, it’s still a revelation to hear the singer finally being crushed under the weight of her own pessimism and self-destructiveness.
Chelsea Wolfe’s fifth full length, Abyss, is as fluid as it is murky, as graceful as it is punishing. Some songs extend the gothic grace of 2013’s excellent Pain Is Beauty, while others approach the listener with a heaviness akin to a demon sitting square on your chest as you sleep. Seeing as Abyss was inspired by Wolfe’s struggle with sleep paralysis, it is fitting that the album’s songs often unfold like a devious shadow stalking across a bedroom in the dead of night.
Between references to the River Styx, lamentations of psychic emptiness, and the terrors of our own uncontrollable emotions, Chelsea Wolfe finds calm on “Crazy Love,” just slightly beyond the middle of her terrific fourth album, Abyss. Closer in execution to the 2012 acoustic collection, Unknown Rooms, than the rest of her discography, its hoary, descending violin tones and gently strummed acoustic guitar provide a brief respite from the earthquake electronics of the remaining ten tracks. The California singer-songwriter has risked being pigeonholed for embracing more than a few metal elements in her music (and her wardrobe skews black and flowing), but she draws from influences as vast as the state she calls home: Townes Van Zandt’s gravestone — which she and her new band visited on a pilgrimage while recording Abyss in Dallas — flashes by briefly in the LP’s trailer.
Chelsea Wolfe is an L.A. singer-songwriter with a taste for black veils and other unabashed goth affectations. But her fifth LP shows she's much more than a gimmick. Her voice is more confident than it's ever been, whether it's bathed in industrial noise on the opener, "Carrion Flowers," or backed by ghostly fingerpicking on "Survive." When she sings, "My heart is a tomb/My heart is an empty room," on the loud-quiet-loud single "Iron Moon," you can see a thousand teens lip-syncing dramatically in their bedrooms.
Metal isn't a hobby sport - or so the story goes. It is more than the sum of its distortion pedals, down-tuned guitars and molten cymbals. Metal is a cradle-to-grave church of the outsider; birth occurring when you first heard Black Sabbath, Slayer or Metallica. On Abyss, however, Los Angeles' Chelsea Wolfe dabbles in it, owns it, then walks away.
Chelsea Wolfe — Abyss (Sargent House)As the band explodes into the chorus of “Iron Moon,” this rarest of cathartic moments on Chelsea Wolfe’s album Abyss, the singer’s voice shifts quickly from dour chanteuse to caterwauling blues singer, mutilated and overdriven through what sounds like the same hundred-year-old microphone that must be part of the arsenal of Wolfe’s Sargent House stall mate, David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand. Beyond being a neat trick, it cleverly condenses into a few moments the overall gist of Wolfe’s ninth studio album in nine years (and eighth album since 2010. ) This is an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed, even as one thing, for just one moment, as her voice shifts from verse to chorus, from song to song.
Perhaps it is best to think of Abyss’s defining feature — the massive, coffin-nail pounding, beast-rising-out-of-the-sea slogging, doom-heralding shagreen riffs which serves as its spines, telsons, embrace, and bone-blunted fangs — as armor; armor with which Chelsea Wolfe is fully confronting the darkest aspects of her canon thus far, dragging them from out of the periphery. After all, one requires armor both to descend into the abyss or rise high enough, fast enough, violently enough to escape it, as well as to battle monsters; it is the protection, weapon, and equalizer, and of course traditionally rendered in metal. Plagued by sleep paralysis, which chokes the eventide with paranoia and demons, and subject to the same heartbreaks and sufferings of the human condition as any of the rest of us, with Abyss Wolfe puts front and center this darkness and uses it as both a bludgeon and catalyst.
Chelsea Wolfe has made an album the unites all her previous work, and then turns the dial up as far as it will go. Abyss, the new record from California’s foremost purveyor of goth/doom/folk/ambient/(insert multifarious modifiers here), sounds like a combination of the many different muses Wolfe has turned to throughout her past records, a means of figuring out how to join together those disparate stylings. The answer, it turns out, is simple: Loudly.
Carrion Flowers, the opener on Chelsea Wolfe’s newest record, was used in a trailer for Walking Dead spinoff Fear The Walking Dead. That’s no surprise: the whole album’s mood is creepy and otherworldly, with the California singer/songwriter employing heavy clouds of drone, disjointed, out-of-tune piano lines and her spectral vocals to create an atmosphere of doom. It was inspired by her own experience with sleep paralysis and “the boundary between dreams and reality.” At nearly an hour long, it takes psychological strength to get through.