The career of American songstress Chelsea Wolfe has thus far been an exploration of music as catharsis, and this search has resulted in a steady incline towards heavier and heavier territories. In truth, any of the Californian’s six albums could easily feature in this AOTD series, such is her remarkable consistency and talent as a songwriter, but for us Hiss Spun takes the crown for sheer ambition.
Her preceding albums, 2013’s synth-heavy Pain Is Beauty and 2015’s despondent Abyss, saw Wolfe combine with her multi-instrumentalist collaborator Ben Chisholm to dial up the heaviness, and whilst metal fans are often quick to point out the touches of doom metal, the heaviness first originated in shades of electronic and industrial music. With Kurt Ballou on board, however, not to mention contributions from Queens Of The Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen and a guest appearance from Aaron Turner of Isis, Hiss Spun saw Wolfe heavier than ever before, so much so that she saw fit to take a more stripped-back approach for this year’s Birth Of Violence.
The singer-songwriter’s voice remains the focal point, with it never having to fight the heaviness around her for the limelight. Her voice is alluring and spine-tinglingly elegant, and thus somewhat disconnected from the electronic noise and doomy riffs, but they coincide with the darker atmospheres to turn heaviness into eeriness. Like the very best metal, it’s a dynamic affair and a challenging listen, pushing the listener in its experimentation and its stark portrayal of emotion.
As Wolfe 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 is even seen crouched, as if ready to pounce, in a corner on the album’s artwork. Birth Of Violence may have seen her take her foot off the gas, but we can only assume that the follow-up will see her poised and ready once again.
Words: George Parr