September 22, 2017

Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun

By Justin C. If you've read anything about Chelsea Wolfe's new album, Hiss Spun (and you probably have), you've probably heard that this is one of her heaviest records. That was my first impression, too. There are plenty of doomy riffs
By Justin C.


If you've read anything about Chelsea Wolfe's new album, Hiss Spun (and you probably have), you've probably heard that this is one of her heaviest records. That was my first impression, too. There are plenty of doomy riffs right from the first song, and by the third song, "Vex," you've been treated to guest-growler Aaron Turner, who's been in a couple of popular bands you might know. But the more I listened, the more I questioned whether a bit more distortion really means "heavier." She's always been heavy, in impact if not in actual decibel levels.

I think Chelsea Wolfe's dark music and heart-on-sleeve vocals have long appealed to metal fans regardless of how heavy the instrumentation behind her is. I know that when I got back into listening to metal, it was in part a reaction to the "all ironic, all the time" indie rock scene at the time that I'd grown truly bored of. I wanted a bit of emotional authenticity, and although there are plenty of metal bands that you need to take with a grain of salt, you can certainly find authentic bands putting their all into the music. Wolfe does that, too, and it's been a constant through her catalog.

Photos by Michael Lamertz.

Hiss Spun is no different, except that it might be even more raw in its own way. Wolfe's lyrics may be sketches of stories rather than tales plainly told, but lines like, "I'll never tell the secrets of my family" in "The Culling" will provoke an immediate, visceral reaction for most. The track's early minimalism eventually erupts into heavier fare, signaled by a bass drum hit and a horror movie-soundtrack guitar sound. The underlying tension never goes away, though.

"16 Psyche" is another track that immediately grabbed me. On its face, the song title sounds like an address for a mental institution, but a little Googling reveals that it's actually the name of an asteroid. There's no denying the immediately gripping vocals and compelling melody lines, though. No matter how much fuzz that's added, Wolfe's vocals will always be the beating heart of this project, and the fact that her voice is so versatile--moving from whispers to full-throated croons, and making ever-so-slight changes in timbre, like in the surprising acoustic-turned-bombast track "Two Spirit"--reminds you of what a joy it is to hear someone who has full command of her instrument. Every person who watches singing competitions on TV and equates "LOUD" with "good" would do well to take a listen.

Photos by Michael Lamertz.

On "Two Spirit" and several other songs, I found myself thinking that some of the guitar work had a late-90s/early-00s sound, and that's likely due to the present of Troy Van Leeuwen, guitarist in A Perfect Circle, Failure, and Queens of the Stone Age. The interesting contributions don't end there. Along with Mr. Turner, Wolfe's long-term collaborator Ben Chisholm adds all manner of sound and texture. In a recent Decibel interview he talks about how the sound of a tractor bucket dragging along the ground became the inspiration for the album-closer "Scrape." At times it's a downright scary tune, with Wolfe piercing through the noise with lines like "I don't need your help / or you hindrance / You stay the fuck away from me."

Going into this review, I had it in my head that although I liked the last album, Abyss, I found myself going back to Pain Is Beauty more often because the album felt more direct. Hiss Spun feels like a merging of those two worlds. Some songs want to reach out and touch your cheek (or grab you by the throat), and others unspool more slowly, rewarding repeat listens. I hope this album finds Wolfe getting more, well-deserved attention, because it's a dark gem.

Tagged with 2017, Chelsea Wolfe, doom metal, Justin C, Sargent House
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