Chelsea Wolfe ‘Abyss’ Review: California songstress creates a modern Goth masterpiece.
In recent interviews, Chelsea Wolfe has stated that her new album Abyss was largely inspired by her bouts with sleep paralysis (i.e. the inability to move or speak upon waking up, often accompanied by disturbing hallucinations).
And from opening track Carrion Flowers, it’s clear that Wolfe has used that nightmarish limbo state to dramatic effect: it weaves a haunting web of tension, hitting the listener like a battering ram with thick distortion and a militaristic drum pattern akin to Portishead’s Machine Gun.
Much has been made of Abyss showing Wolfe’s migration from subdued folkie to doom metal songstress, but the album (as a whole) is too varied and experimental to fully classify. But, that being said, it’s still plenty heavy.
Take Iron Moon which retrofits a sludge riff with shoegaze sheen, letting her voice float adrift, akin to the album cover picturing Wolfe descending into deep black waters.
That the track was inspired by the poetry of Xu Lizhi, (the Foxconn Chinese factory worked who documented his cruel conditions before committing suicide), proves that her lyrical content goes toe to toe with her ominous soundscapes.
Wolfe’s voice becomes even more submerged on the fuzz-fueled Dragged Out, and her lyrics perfectly evoke a loss of equilibrium after being drowned in sound: Sometimes I wanna lose my mind, lose myself to something.
For fans longing for the skeletal grace of previous album Pain is Beauty, Wolfe offers a few lifelines: the viola driven Grey Days’s rain-soaked melody perfectly aids her melodrama: How many years have I been sleeping? No one told me I was alive. Likewise, Simple Death frames her ghostly wail in subtle spectral keyboards and minimalist percussion.
But Maw, the strongest cut, combines fragile grace with harrowing sonics: starting with understated guitar, it builds and mutates throughout, adding scalpel sharp NIN-esque enveloped keyboards and layers of granulated distortion before unraveling into beautiful cacophony.
The album closes with its unsettling title track, where Wolfe emotes dread and malaise over tweaked horror show piano: When I move it pulls me closer/When I swim it drags me under/When I dream it steals my wonder/Then sets me free from my slumber.
Those lyrics perfectly encapsulate Abyss’s powers. Wolfe has created a dark masterpiece: a seamless tapestry that’s both suffocating and liberating, and a fully immersive experience. It’s also her best album to date, and a contender for album of the year. Go ahead and plunge into its dark waters. It’s a dark voyage well worth the risk.
You can pre-order ‘Abyss’ via iTunes and Amazon below:
[amazon_image id=”B00WREOFFS” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Abyss (Vinyl)[/amazon_image]