It’s been an interesting five years for Chelsea Wolfe (has it really only been five years since The Grime and the Glow?). Abyss is her fifth album, not counting a live album, an EP, and her two collaborative projects with King Dude. It’s hard to believe that the neofolk guitar-strummer who we first fell in love with has become such a gothic heavy metal goddess. Or perhaps it’s not so hard to believe.
If you worried that getting an extra helping of public notice in association with Game of Thrones might, for some reason, prompt Wolfe to soften her tone in some way, allow me to set your mind at ease. Her album earns its title of Abyss. It doubles down on the industrial elements of Pain Is Beauty and throws in enough growling bass and massive down-tuned guitars for a legitimate metal album.
The album welcomes you in with the distorted thunder of synth drums in “Carrion Flowers,” flowing into the actual doom metal of “Iron Moon.” It’s no mistake that these songs are not only the first two tracks on the album, but were the first two singles released as well. Wolfe’s ethereal voice is the counter to the instrumentation. The drums and guitars sound aggressive and insistent; Wolfe’s voice comes across as drowned in melancholy, and is perhaps even a bit resigned. I don’t mean to give the impression that this is in any way apathetic music—there’s emotion in every syllable—but even on Pain Is Beauty, there was a particular bare-fanged fury in songs like “Feral Love” and “House of Metal” that motivated an active response. Abyss is simply crushing. Play this album on a rainy day and watch whatever plans you had evaporate as you stare through the window for an hour.
The amazing thing about an album so emotionally draining is how fascinating it is. The broken beats and cellos of “Grey Days,” the electronic contrast in “After the Fall,” the simple acoustic E-minor chord of “Crazy Love,” the mellow organ of “Simple Death”: These are all songs that I want to listen to over and over, and so I do. And these are the middle four tracks of an album that began with what seemed like an unbeatable one-two punch.
The album wraps up with “The Abyss,” and after everything that’s come before, it feels like an extra burden for a title track with that particular name to live up to. The cyclopean piano plinking and slowly escalating guitar chords masterfully provide the impression of a great swirling void that, as Wolfe suggests, we should “Run away, run away” from. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the least electronic songs on the album, and that somehow allows it to most effectively close up the album.
Five albums in, and Chelsea Wolfe has somehow managed to consistently grow darker without succumbing to becoming a gothic parody. I trust that as she goes forward, she’ll continue to innovate and develop her sound. One thing is for sure, however: so long as she keeps writing songs of this quality, I’ll listen to her forever, regardless of the type of music she chooses to put forward.
01) Carrion Flowers
02) Iron Moon
03) Dragged Out
05) Grey Days
06) After the Fall
07) Crazy Love
08) Simple Death
10) Color of Blood
11) The Abyss
Written by: Scott Ross
Sargent House (United States) / SH141 / 2×12″ LP, CD, Digital
Daymare Recordings (Japan) / DYMC-252 / CD
Darkwave / Gothic Rock / Dark Pop / Doom Metal / Dark Folk