Music

Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss

Abyss may seem dark and impenetrable at first glance, but Chelsea Wolfe's musical sensibilities and singing make it her most fulfilling and worthwhile album yet.


Chelsea Wolfe

Abyss

Label: Sargent House
US Release Date: 2015-08-07
UK Release Date: 2015-08-07
Amazon
iTunes

It is easy to see why many metal fans enjoy Chelsea Wolfe’s work. Even though she is a folk singer at heart, her work is slightly more akin to black metal acts like Burzum than it is to Joni Mitchell. She’s not the only one with the ability to blend traditional folk music with metal and electronic sensibilities (see Panopticon’s Roads to the North), but she is one of the only artists to keep her music mainly within the realm of folk, even if she incorporates other genres as well. Abyss, her latest album, continues this metal-folk fusion, improving upon her unique sound and style.

There’s no other way to say it: Abyss is dense. The opener, “Carrion Flower”, starts off the album with some static and muffled electric guitar riffs from Ben Chisholm while clanking, industrial sound effects fill out the empty background. Though Wolfe does switch up her song structure a bit throughout her latest project, these elements remain on almost all of the songs. “Grey Days”, for instance, adds on to the impenetrable wall of sound by layering some pulsating, robotic drum kicks atop the hefty electric guitar and delicate acoustic folk melody in the back, while “After the Fall” features a tremendous instrumental crescendo accompanied by a killer electronic breakdown towards the back end of the song. Wolfe’s methodical layering of sounds gives Abyss an almost shoegaze quality, albeit one much darker and terrifying than any My Bloody Valentine has done.

Even though Abyss is the perfect title to describe this album’s mood, Wolfe does offset some of the heavier songs with some lighter instrumentation. Besides folk fingerpicking on “Iron Moon” and “Survival”, “Grey Days” and “The Abyss” have some shrieking violin and strings, and “Crazy Love”, one of the more understated songs on the album, consists mainly of Wolfe’s vocals and some acoustic guitar strumming. However, Wolfe makes certain throughout Abyss that even these softer moments carry the same hollow, nihilistic aesthetic that the lyrics and heavier tracks established at the very beginning of the album.

Surprisingly, Wolfe’s voice rings loud and clear over such thick soundscapes. In fact, it’s the one thing that ties all of the various instrumentation and musical styles together into a tight, compact bundle. Her light, almost soprano-like vocals do not ride into the abyss of music, but instead shimmer and glide atop of it all as she sings about loneliness, death, and self-deprecating love. In an interview with The Work Magazine, Wolfe stated that she wished her voice were as gruff as that of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, but it’s actually the soft tonality of her voice that makes her such a unique artist. Not only does her singing contrast Chisholm's shredding guitar riffs, but the echoes and slight reverb that are added to her voice complement the mood of Chisholm’s playing while also giving the listener a moment or two of respite before the instrumentation comes pummeling down once more. Wolfe’s voice is the one constant element of melodic beauty, of light in a world of darkness, that makes Abyss as multi-faceted, dynamic, and enjoyable as it is.

In recent interviews, Chelsea Wolfe stated that she thought Abyss would mainly be an acoustic album, but I’m glad that she didn’t follow down that path. As with most of her previous work, Abyss is folk-inspired at its core, but it’s the visceral metal and eerie ambient electronic elements in her work that become the pièce de résistance of her music. There’s sheer beauty in Wolfe’s vocals and acoustic embellishments, but there’s also grit and filth in Ben Chisholm’s distorted riffs and horrific sound effects that creates a perfect blend of tones where both elevate, rather than overpower, one another. It’s precisely this duality that makes Abyss, as well as the rest of her music, as potent for metal heads as it is for folk fans; as a result, Wolfe's art fits into a musical category all its own.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.