Chelsea Wolfe’s fan base is a testament to her ability to blend genres and have a crossover appeal. Over the course of her three last albums from ‘Apokalypsis’ to ‘Pain Is Beauty’ to her newly released ‘Abyss’ she’s gained fans who reside in both Goth/Darkwave and Doom Metal (she even did a cover of Burzum a few years ago which attracted a lot of fans). As she’s slowly gained more fans coming from all areas of music she’s become more assertive with her abilities as a songwriter and has fully realised her abilities in marrying both pain and beauty, particularly well on the aptly titled ‘Pain Is Beauty’ which saw her getting louder with more Electronic elements finding their way into her music. With each album Wolfe has become darker and harsher sonically while keeping her angelic vocals in tact and ‘Abyss’ is her largest assault on the senses yet as well as her darkest exploration in music.
On ‘Abyss’ Wolfe embraces the elements of Metal that she’s flirted with for such a long time in a much more hands on manner. She collaborates with both the musicians that have done so well with her in the past like the multi-instrumentalist and co-writer Ben Chisholm, her Voila player Ezra Buchla and longtime percussionist Dylan Fujioka but on ‘Abyss’ she recruits a new addition to the recording with Mike Sullivan, the member of the Post-Rock group, Russian Circles; a band who have collaborated with Chelsea Wolfe before. Perhaps it’s his influence on this album that has helped Chelsea embrace the darker side of her music so much more heavily and with ease and her songs benefit from it. There’s distorted instrumentation all over this album; right from the opening song ‘Carrion Flowers’ there are harsh blasts grunting guitars that loop over themselves before letting some pounding drums come in to elevate her vocals all the while sounding Industrial in a way. In contrast the guitar sounds on tracks like ‘Iron Moon’ sound like they’re trudging through a swamp, sounding so much more Doom Metal inspired than on any of her previous material.
At her core Wolfe has always written songs that would lend themselves well to a Folk aesthetic, and she still embraces that on ‘Abyss’ with the songs often finding themselves showing how haunting it can be to sound delicate. Tracks like ‘Crazy Love’ has her singing over the top of an acoustic backdrop while sinister strings build around it before the whole composition sounds like it’s collapsing in on itself. On the song ‘Maw’ Wolfe softly repeats the line ‘where are you?’ with heavy reverb over the top of some slow building guitar arpeggios and strings before the distortion delicately comes in with such beauty. Chelsea Wolfe has created such a specific brand of dark song-writing that sounds hauntingly emotive yet deeply disturbing.
Wolfe’s actual vocals on this album often fall into the abyss that she’s trying to create sonically; not so much because of the heavy vocal effects like on previous albums but because she tries to let her voice become one ingredient in the darkness that she’s creating rather than something that comes in over the top. This isn’t to say that her voice isn’t distinctive as it genuinely sounds beautiful — especially in the way she carries a melody — but she definitely tries to sound ghoulish rather than pretty, like she’s weak from pain.
This bottomless pit that Wolfe sounds like she’s fallen into on this album is actually inspired by a condition that Chelsea suffers from called sleep paralysis – a condition in which you try to wake up from sleep but can’t and even when you do wake up you can’t move properly. This album represents both the anger, frustration and pain she feels from her condition on the heavier tracks as well as the feeling of escapism and falling when you are actually asleep on some of the more airy tracks. The simple-yet-effective lyrics reflect this fantastically, ‘I’m screaming I can’t wake up’ she sings on ‘Simple Death’ and on the title track she sings ‘Set me free from my slumber’ sounding like she’s stuck in a prison in her own mind. And then at other times it sounds like she’d rather be in pain sleeping than the pain she goes through while awake ‘In sleep there is no sorrow’.
On other tracks Wolfe takes on the subject matters of others and gives them the haziness of dreams that she feels in her own life like on ‘Iron Moon’ which ‘was inspired after reading the poetry of a Foxconn worker who took his own life – his frustration and desperation.’ she said in an interview before then going on to then say ‘There’s a blurry confusion throughout the lyrics on the album, as it sometimes is in dreams’.
On ‘Abyss’ Chelsea Wolfe embraced her darkness, her personal life, and working with other musicians more than on any other album and as a result this might be her best work to date. Her evolution has been one of such consistency – she’s not afraid to let the music take her wherever she feels she needs to be. This has always been evident in her music up until this point with her genre hopping within an album, but on ‘Abyss’ she embraces a particular sound more than ever before and the results pay off.
Best Tracks: Carrion Flowers, Iron Moon, Maw, Grey Days, Colour of Blood