ABYSS by Chelsea Wolfe
Genre: Darkwave, Gothic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Iron Moon”, “After the Fall”, “Color of Blood”, “The Abyss”
Singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has flirted with heavily distorted guitars for most of her musical career, adding to her uniquely alluring sound and establishing a subgenre simply known as “doom folk”. Darkness and despair has always been the focus of Ms. Wolfe’s music, both lyrically and sonically. Emerging from a family with country music roots, Wolfe immersed herself in the goth rock scene at a very young age, but kept an intimately folk-y twist on her projects. It was 2011’s Ἀποκάλυψις (APOKALYPSIS) and its blend of thick guitars, creepy synths, and her haunting voice singing of dismal predicaments, that granted Wolfe praise the world over and forced her to overcome serious stage fright (literally lifting the veil from her eyes). She later proved that she was no one trick pony with her collection of acoustic songs on UNKNOWN ROOMS in 2012, maintaining a sorrowful mood with only a guitar and her signature vocals. While her last album did incorporate the usual doom guitar work, it fell a bit more in allegiance with more electronic elements such as ethereal darkwave thanks to its disturbing synths (most notably on the hit single “Feral Love” and its very scary music video). For her latest project, entitled ABYSS, Wolfe downs the entire pitcher of doom metal kool-aid. Under the guidance of longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm, guitarist Mike Sullivan from Russian Circles, and producer extraordinaire John Congleton, the results she produces are nothing short of extraordinary.
Thick, droning guitars create an incredibly gloomy and oppressive atmosphere which has never before been reached on Wolfe’s previous endeavors. On a good chunk of these songs, the instrumentation is bigger than and louder than, but never at odds with Wolfe’s vocals, especially considering how powerful and evocative they can be. Tracks like “Iron Moon” graciously ebb and flow, with Wolfe’s ghostly vocals melting into both pummeling riffs and gentle acoustic guitar notes accompanying her prayer-like whispers. When Chelsea is not deafeningly crying in the grim throws of hopelessness and anguish, she is a breathy specter licking wounds. Wolfe grabs everything in her favorite bag of tricks and puts them on this album, including unnerving, manipulated vocals and noisy synths punctuating tracks like “After the Fall” and “Color of Blood”. There is no doubt that this sounds like classic Chelsea Wolfe, but the songs become ultimately much more engaging thanks to the dense soundscapes the guitars and the almost violent percussion add.
Another layer within certain tracks is the use of deeply emotional strings from Andrea Calderon and Ezra Buchla. Their violin and viola frighteningly screech when appropriate, exhibiting depth within such maddening horror. At first, “Crazy Love” sounds like a track off of UNKNOWN ROOMS, but as the track progresses the menacing fiddle work of Buchla and Calderon prevail as Wolfe’s howls match, fantastically evoking intense feelings of misery. This, combined with an off-kilter piano tune is what makes the self-titled closer absolutely amazing.
With this album, Chelsea Wolfe has shown that she has fine-tuned her style to near perfection. If she was not already at the apex of her musical career, she surely is now. The only blight on the horizon is the fact that it will be immensely challenging to top this album going forward.