Release Date: Sep 22, 2017
Record label: Sargent House
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock
In attempting to fathom the chaos and confusion of the outside world, Chelsea Wolfe’s latest sees her first look inwards, at her own unrest. With its anaesthetising, tar-thick gloom, Hiss Spun is inseparable from predecessor Abyss, and yet feels more porous and open. This paradox is well illustrated by the album’s artwork; almost the negative image of Abyss, it features Wolfe crouched in a stark, pale corner decked out in opulent, raven-like finery. Hiss Spun is Wolfe’s heaviest release yet, and her aeriform tones float through it with a spine-tingling grace. With a squeal of feedback and a slam of distortion, Spun opens the album.
Listening to Chelsea Wolfe is an experience that I’d liken taking acid and trying to swim to Mars. It’s good. It’s really, really good. To create a serious cult following in the over-saturated and often intensely clichéd (we’ve all heard Black Sabbath’s Vol.4.; you know that and I know that.
Never one to stand still, Hiss Spun finds Chelsea Wolfe continuing where her much loved Abyss left off; embracing the metal tones that were starting to stake a claim on her sound, and moving further away from her folk roots. Just looking down the list of names joining her gives a hint of the kind of feel Wolfe was after when she started piecing together Hiss Spun: Converge’s Kurt Ballou takes on production duties, Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy van Leeuwen provides the heavy slabs of guitar noise (and these are slabs, no meandering desert rock here), while Aaron Turner (Sumac/Isis) lends his vocal roar on Vex. While clever application of samples, field recordings and electronic fuzz are still very much a part of Hiss Spun’s sonic palette, they’re no longer front and centre.
For years, it has been clear that Chelsea Wolfe is a mega-talent with major musical ambitions. You can hear it in the progression of her full-length albums. On 2010’s The Grime and the Glow, she created a particularly dark strain of folk music in glorious lo-fi. The next year, she upped both the drama and the production value on Apokalypsis.
Presumably then, Hiss Spun should be understood as an exercise in the pursuit of clarity through confrontation and transgression. This new LP includes aspects of much of what made Wolfe’s previous records so magnetic – the arching melodies, filigreed arrangements and the subtle but consistent hints at the darkness that occasionally bursts through the seams of each album – and pushes them considerably further than ever before. The textures are razor-sharp, the lyrics bold and uncompromising, the vocals astonishingly impassioned and present.
I first encountered Chelsea Wolfe through 2011’s Apokalypsis. At the time, I was consumed by what I saw as something of a goth-pop renaissance in indie music, represented by the cloaked likes of TR/ST, Austra, Zola Jesus, and Cold Cave. Though Wolfe then operated more in the realm of doom-folk than the electropop acts at the forefront of this early 2010s trend, her music nonetheless suggested some tantalizing possibilities.
Backing into a tight corner in a white space, Hiss Spun is Chelsea Wolfe's closest to an attempt at looking out, at communicating with something outside of herself. The album cover sees Wolfe cloaking her body with a dress of black hair, which the wanness of her face peeks out of ever so slightly. She is on guard; waiting for the predators to arrive.
Chelsea Wolfe’s grim hybrid of neo-folk and gothic rock has often focused on inner turmoil and feelings of being trapped inside oneself. Describing the exquisite suffering of idealistic love falling apart on 2013’s Pain Is Beauty, the Californian singer-songwriter lamented the tumult of a war within her own head, and on 2015’s Abyss she described her heart as empty and tomb-like. On her new album, Hiss Spun, she retreats further inward as the buzzing chaos of the encroaching outside world begins to pose an even greater threat.
On her sixth official full-length album Hiss Spun, singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe attempts to find reconciliation with global-scale suffering by turning to her own personal scars in a heaving wail of guitars. Over her last two albums, 2013.