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Chelsea Wolfe
Hiss Spun Sean Guthrie , September 26th, 2017 15:56

On her latest, sixth album Chelsea Wolfe wields dark influences and downtempo dirges.

“It seems like the world has been in tears for months,” Chelsea Wolfe says in the press notes for her new album. “And then you remember it’s been fucked for a long time, it’s been fucked since the beginning.”

It would be misguided, then, to expect Hiss Spun to pulse with joy or whimsy. This is an album with a look of profound incomprehension plastered across its face, the work of a songwriter whose quest for a settled state of mind turns its back on the outside world and instead probes inward.

Sonically this means that Hiss Spun picks up where Wolfe’s 2015 album Abyss left off, hybridising metal, electronic, industrial and – for want of a better adjective – gothic influences to sculpt a thoroughly contemporary take on all four genres that variously evokes Marissa Nadler, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack. Riding the faders this time is Kurt Ballou of Converge, who gives Wolfe’s dark impulses a lustre that was missing from Abyss.

While appropriately miasmic and gargantuan, the textural layering sometimes feels too substantial, but where it succeeds Ballou turns airlessness into a virtue and Wolfe’s unwaveringly committed vocal performances rise to the occasion – as on the chaotic electro throb of ‘Vex’, where Aaron Turner of Isis and Sumac unleashes a series of orc-like howls as if trying to escape the descent into hell, and the closing ‘Scrape’, which hurtles towards a cliff edge with all the wide-eyed abandon of early Killing Joke.

She brought in Mike Sullivan of Russian Circles to expand her palette on parts of Abyss, and Wolfe does the same here with Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens Of The Stone Age, who joins Wolfe’s long-time co-pilot Ben Chisholm and drummer Jess Gowrie in building not so much a wall of sound as a pyramid, exemplified by the anthemic, down-tuned drama of ‘16 Psyche’.

For the most part Hiss Spun comprises what can be succinctly described as downtempo dirges with a handful of diversions – ‘Offering’, whose musky electronica and melodic convention make it the closest thing to pop on this album, the torn folk-waltz of 'Two Spirit’, the rapid stomp of ‘Particle Flux’ and perhaps the album’s most singular cut, ‘Twin Fawn’, which juxtaposes quasi-flamenco verses with monumentally heavy choruses before gunning for the exit on a wave of distressed guitar. Whether this reliance on slow burners is a good thing will largely depend on your appetite for diversity.

Arguably the weakest aspect of Hiss Spun is the hit-and-miss nature of its ability to land blows to your gut - a goal which tends to be fundamental to music of this stripe. While it would be folly to cast even a shred of doubt on Wolfe’s commitment, integrity and emotional candour, on passages here they are submerged or silenced by the pursuit of ever-bigger sonic highs. Where the swell subsides, as on 'Two Spirit’, with Wolfe’s voice accompanied by little more than acoustic guitar, the calm is ablutionary.

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