Chelsea Wolfe’s Abyss, Your Album of the Day
L.A.’s Chelsea Wolfe has been adding her ethereal voice over a mixture of electronic and doom metal for almost a decade now. She often casts herself as a figure in darkness, but beneath the gloom, there’s an mature ear for crafting songs and spinning melodies. If last year’s Pain is Beauty brought out Wolfe’s confessional and sensual side, Abyss is her exploration of dynamics and doom.
Aided by Russian Circle’s Mike Sullivan (with whom Wolfe collaborated with on the song “Memorial“), Abyss’ first track “Carrion Flowers” starts off on a droning rumble before being joined by Wolfe’s Beth Gibbon’s-esque voice. It breaks down into a Swans riff – kind of industrial meets electronic pummel before subsiding into an ambient afterglow. It’s similar to someone like Zola Jesus, whose ethereal voice carries over repetitive no-wave riffage, but Wolfe’s songwriting is more attentive to dynamics and narrative.
Speaking of dynamics, the next track “Iron Moon” starts with a distorted grumble, quickly subsides into an acoustic whisper, before erupting with a low roar. It’s reminiscent of the distorted gloom for bands like Neurosis (with Jarboe especially), Old Man Gloom, Isis, True Widow, and other modern day American doom bands that stray away from longer, instrumental structures (like Swans or Sunn 0)))) and replace it with shorter, vocal heavy songs.
After an initial rush of distortion and crunchy doom, the latter half of the album updates the ethereal and atmospheric qualities that were hinted at on Pain is Beauty. “Crazy Love,” “Simple Love,” and “Survive” are instrumentally more relaxed, but Wolfe’s haunting voice keeps it from being merely “pretty.” Instead, it retains the tension and tone as the heavier first part of the album.
Unfortunately, this shift in aesthetic makes the album feel like two separate albums meshed together. Abyss hits you with its hardest punches in the first couple of tracks and then pulls back, the songs more reflective and ballad driven. By the time “Color of Blood” hits with a metallic drone, the tone seems like a forced bookend that ends with the thoroughly anticlimactic final piece “The Abyss.”
However, despite a rather limp ending, the majority of the album delicately balances between electronic acoustic sensitivity and heavy epic metal / industrial drone outs. At its strongest – on “Carrion Flowers,” “Iron Moon,” and too a lesser extent “Survive” – we see both sides of the dynamics, and it’s in those dynamics that Wolfe draws her strength out on Abyss.