Chelsea Wolfe has been consistently churning out excellent releases since The Grime and the Glow in 2010, including the highly praised Pain Is Beauty and last year’s equally celebrated followup, Abyss. Each album has seen experimentations as Wolfe’s songwriting continues to mature, evolving from grimy, atmospheric tunes on earlier works to neofolk/electronic hybridization on Pain Is Beauty and the incorporation of drone and post-metal on Abyss. Periods between major releases have also provided time for B-Sides and covers, an acoustic collection of unreleased material, and collaborations with King Dude that often did not see as much experimentation, but offered opportunities for Wolfe to double down on her songwriting to create simpler, more intimate pieces. Hypnos/Flame is no different as a simplistic yet incredibly haunting demonstration of some of some of Wolfe’s strongest songwriting to date.
Hypnos/Flame offers up two new tracks for the vinyl release, with three demo recordings from the Abyss sessions as bonuses for those seeking the digital version: “Grey Days,” “Simple Death,” and “Survive.” While they make the release more robust in terms of content, the tracks themselves are what would be expected from demo sessions: rougher mixes emphasizing some aspects that did not make it in the final cut, serving merely to provide an alternative sound to something already familiar. The exception, however, is “Grey Days”—a different take that is a remarkable departure from what made it onto Abyss. Here, it features a much moodier introduction combined with different mixes that make the original’s drum loop feel distant yet menacing. That same mix also lends Wolfe’s vocals power as they echo and build to sound absolutely cavernous. This version is so bleak that the original seems uptempo and cheery by comparison.
The atmosphere of session “Grey Days” is only matched by the two new tracks of the single themselves. “Hypnos” and “Flame” could be seen as departures from Abyss, opting for simplicity and restraint to convey the same eeriness. Gone are any droning guitars, electronics, or drum loops (or any percussion, actually), opting instead for nothing more than a guitar and some keyboards and making these two tracks feel like they’d be much more at home on Wolfe’s acoustic collection, Unknown Rooms. Except that all of Abyss’s production quality and ambience are still present and it makes for an incredibly potent combination.
“Hypnos” lives up to its name: a hypnotic dirge made whole through co-conspirator Ben Chisolm’s keyboards and effects. It is a familiar style to anyone that has followed Wolfe’s work, even with its stronger folk leanings. In contrast to the stark melancholy of “Hypnos,” “Flame” begins in lighter tone, wearing Wolfe’s old country and blues influences on its sleeve. A warm jangle gives way to droning guitar and layered effects, turning simple folk into something more ethereal. The song also continues a stylistic tradition best represented by songs such as “Simple Death” as she continues to hone and refine the sound most reminiscent of the deserts she calls home. “Flame” is just as much a companion down the dusty roads of Route 66 as it is in one’s living room. It is exciting to see Wolfe continue to develop this particular style and make it all her own.
Such clichés as “haunting” or “spellbinding” feel impossible to escape when describing her music. However, there’s no denying that it has a way of grounding the listener while simultaneously transplanting them elsewhere. There’s an indescribable eloquence to her music that has been evident throughout all of her career, and this single may be one the best offerings to date that so readily captures that notion. Her sound continues to mature and grow across each record, and Hypnos/Flame is no different.
03) Grey Days (Demo) (Digital Only)
04) Simple Death (Demo) (Digital Only)
05) Survive (Demo) (Digital Only)