22nd September 2017 – Sargent House
02. 16 Psyche
05. The Culling
06. Particle Flux
07. Twin Fawn
09. Static Hum
11. Two Spirit
Gothic songstress, guitarist, and queen of all things dark and enigmatic Chelsea Wolfe has made quite the splash in the murky waters of experimental rock and associated underground music circles as of late. This decade so far has seen her transition from the neo-folk and gothic rock twinged darkwave sounds of 2012′s Pain Is Beauty to the visceral and molasses-level sludge metal leanings of Abyss, proving her ability to adapt a wide array of sounds to her liking while always managing to tie things neatly together with her bittersweet, echo-drenched vocals. Abyss was a clear indication of her musical compass swinging closer towards the harsher wastelands of metal, the sun-baked distorted guitars, heavy bass and a pervasive ominous atmosphere being the dead giveaway, and this latest offering Hiss Spun sees Chelsea Wolfe fully embracing this musical direction.
The record’s opening screams of guitar feedback and sludgy riffs make this mission statement clear from the get-go and the overall sound is monstrous. The guitars and drums are left rough around the edges to give weight to the down-tempo doom aesthetic as if the instruments were recently exhumed from dirt and carrion prior to recording. The shifts in intensity from verse to chorus in “16 Psyche” are particularly effective, and when Chelsea Wolfe reaches into her upper vocal register in the latter half of the track, the reverb creates the illusion of the band opting to set up their recording sessions in the mouth of a decidedly dark cave.
The album’s shorter interlude tracks also add another shrouded layer to the gloom, particularly “Strain” and “Welt” which draw influence largely from dark ambient and experimental electronic music. While “Strain” acts solely as a transition from the first half of the album to the second, “Welt” reprises the closing theme from the track “The Culling” which is easily one of the record’s darkest spots, but instead of rounding it out with guitars, the melody is played on piano. This reprisal is nothing short of haunting and demonstrates Chelsea Wolfe’s prowess at developing atmosphere and most importantly creating an album with a near seamless flow from front to back in her latest exploration of metal.
As impressive as Hiss Spun may be in moving Chelsea Wolfe forward in her mastery of the sludge metal and post-metal sound, it unfortunately also moves her further away from the sounds that made her earlier albums so captivating. This album definitely succeeds in grabbing a genre by the throat and rolling with it, but it lacks the nuance in both sound and song structure that Pain Is Beauty demonstrated; an album where every song had its own identity, yet came together to form an incredibly coherent album that ranged from stark synth soundscapes to moody guitar dirges. Hiss Spun does have its dynamic moments with unsettling tracks like “The Culling” and the synths on the brief yet pleasant “Offering” – a track that should remind long-term fans of “The Warden” from the Pain Is Beauty days – but for people who have been following her work from the beginning, it feels like their enjoyment of this album is going to be largely dependent on their ability to digest the metal pill so to speak.
With another impressive album like Hiss Spun under her belt, it is hardly surprising to see why Chelsea Wolfe is one of the current icons in alternative and experimental music right now. Although this record may not appeal to every corner of her fan base, it is impossible to deny its mastery of sludgy, atmospheric metal. It will be interesting to see what direction she takes next, as she has stated on many occasions how she enjoys not being tied down by a single genre, but for now this is a record best listened to in a dark candle-lit room, a fitting ritual for drawing in the coldest, final months of 2017.