It’s rare that a folky singer-songwriter forays into the world of heavier music, but recent releases from Chelsea Wolfe have seen her weave her way into the metal spotlight, garnering attention from even the most mainstream of rock publications. Doomy soundscapes may sound, on paper, a strange accompaniment to her gothic, Scandinavian folk-inspired sound, but in practice prove to bolster it by adding to the tension-building atmosphere that dominates new album Hiss Spun.
As the Californian singer-songwriter moves further still from her folk roots, her wraithlike performance takes on a different meaning, simultaneously sedating you with ethereal lullabies whilst also infusing everything with an inescapable anxiety. Her very presence emits a similarly disconcerting atmosphere. Though she would at first appear vulnerable, this vulnerability never comes without a sense that you’re not quite safe. She seemingly displays a certain discomfort when in the public eye, with nary a press shot existing without her face at least partially covered, usually by her hair, and she is even seen crouched, as if ready to pounce, in a corner on the album’s artwork.
Wolfe has chosen her contributors well, with the impact of Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy van Leeuwen being instantly recognisable here, even if his role largely varies from his day job. His disquiet playing mimics Wolfe’s own performance, favouring soothing sections infused with sprinkles of unsettling atonality before intermittently placed heavier sections allow his riffs to take on a more conventionally doomy structure. Meanwhile, Converge’s Kurt Ballou continues to show his talent as a producer, capturing the subtleties of Wolfe’s entrancing sound, and Sumac frontman Aaron Turner (formerly of Isis) reinforces Wolfe’s heaviest moment yet during ‘Vex’, by contrasting her eerie vocals with his own irate yells.
Wolfe’s enchanting brand of music benefits from taking an increased inspiration from metal on Hiss Spun. 2015’s Abyss introduced us to her heavier side, but Hiss Spun delves fully into a more doom metal-inspired style that takes Wolfe’s mesmeric vocals and ballasts them with thunderous guitars and percussion to create a bewitching brand of chaos. Wolfe’s work has always lingered on interior pain, but whilst her earlier work explored it through mournful melodies, Hiss Spun also explores catharsis through violence.
Hiss Spun is out now on Sargent House. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr