The world was treated with a nice gift last Wednesday, a release of the first listen to Chelsea Wolfe’s upcoming album “Abyss” on NPR. For those you who remember , you are aware of how eerie and talented this woman is. Hailing from Los Angeles, her music focuses on dark themes, whether from past experiences or gothic inspirations. I was able to sit down and take in her upcoming album over the weekend, one I believe could be her strongest release to date.
Just as her prior album “The Grime And The Glow,” “Abyss” contains all the hopelessness listeners can expect from her music. Unlike it, though, “Abyss” feels much more complete. The direction and production of this album differs, heading further into the depths of industrial, metal, and folk. That low-fi sound that was present in her prior albums is slowly dissolving, being replaced by more refined production quality. This updated sound is present in the opening track “Carrion Flowers.” The simple but dark drum beats, the sound manipulation, the sudden intensity of the song’s chorus; this song is one of the strongest opening tracks I’ve heard all year. The thought continues into the next track “Iron Moon,” with its ultra-deep bass sounds and soft vocals. After these two tracks, listeners are aware of the different direction she took with this album, a move that reveals a much more personal side of Chelsea.
Much of “Abyss” follows Chelsea’s own experience with sleep paralysis, a haunting situation where figures in her dreams would appear in real life upon waking up. I can only imagine the terrifying feeling of sensing others’ presence in your room, but she is able to use it as inspiration instead. At nearly an hour long, the listener explores the atmospheric space Chelsea has written us into, twisting and turning between each nightmare. In contrast to the busy nature of today’s music, whether it be electronic machines, guitar noodling, or wailing vocals, Chelsea’s simple approach allows for more exploration, reflection, and freedom. What the listener receives in return is a more profound experience, a more heart-wrenching and painful impression that can’t be recreated with any other album.
Knowing that Chelsea Wolfe is a part of Sargent House, a record label containing great acts such as And So I Watch You From Afar, Russian Circles, and Tera Melos, and Deafheaven, I can feel their fingers reaching through her music and into my ears. With guest musicians as DH Phillips from True Widow and Mike Sullivan from Russian Circles, that metallic tone is more present in this album than ever. The trademark overdriven sound is present in many songs, including “Maw,” one of the album’s longest songs. Switching from overdriven choruses to clean verses, the listener experiences the conflicting senses of serenity and doom. With her depressing yet graceful voice, Chelsea is able to manipulate her audience any way she wishes.
Three profound tracks that stuck out to me on the album were “Dragged Out,” “Grey Skies,” and “After the Fall,” all for different reasons. The shrieking looping vocals, the guttural guitar rhythm, and the inclusion of bell tolls makes “Dragged Out” one of the heaviest and scariest songs on the album. It’s perfectly titled, as I could imagine someone being dragged down into a basement. “After the Fall” contains much of the similar influences as the preceding tracks, but the inclusion of a sound manipulation solo was very interesting, being one of the most experimental aspects on this album. “Grey Skies” reminds me of a Nine Inch Nails song, except with the inclusion of a viola. It is interesting to hear such a light and unique instrument in such a dark album, almost as if the track is part of a movie soundtrack. With lyrics portraying the ills of addiction, the chorus is very moving:
“Grey and holy / You said it was the first time / Like the morphine / You take it all away / Pretend it’s okay / The grey days”
The album closes with the title track “Abyss,” a song plucked straight from Chelsea’s nightmares. With the off-key piano verse, closing string arrangement and deep sound manipulation throughout at that reminds me of something lurking around the corner, this track is downright spooky.
“Abyss” contains Chelsea Wolfe at her finest. I have no criticisms of this album because of its sheer brilliance and innovation. I highly recommend this album to those into doom metal and indie rock, and recommend playing this album in the dark, where your mind can wander without disturbances. Please support Chelsea Wolfe by checking out her Bandcamp page, or by following her on Facebook and Twitter. She is currently touring North America, and is even hitting southern California. (I may just have to make a trek up there). Chelsea Wolfe has once again shown us she is the queen of dark music, and leaves her listeners in anticipation for what’s next.