Chelsea Wolfe inhabits that strange musical realm between folksy singer-songwriter and industrial doom rocker. Over four albums, Wolfe has nearly perfected her unique sound and on her fifth, 'Abyss', she balances her avant-garde dispositions with solid, structured songwriting.
Of course, Chelsea Wolfe's sound has some clear reference points. Portishead's 'Third' pioneered the genre of ominous trip-hop that Wolfe now capitalises on. What's more, her voice is eerily reminiscent of Beth Gibbons. It's both vulnerable and chilling and, as if to hammer home this fact, the track titles don't skimp on the macabre - 'Maw', 'Simple Death' and 'Carrion Flowers' all being stock examples.
Despite the overarching quality of the album, its continual, dirge-like range of instrumentation can become a little stifling and songs risk blending into one another. Tracks build and climax with ferocious, droning guitars and while this might be an effective tactic, it's one that risks tedium when it's used in more than a couple of songs across a single album.
A sharp counterpoint to this minor short falling is 'Grey Days', which nails the familiar combo of rhythmic drums and ominous, multi-tracked vocals. Wolfe says that the inspiration for the song came from two unlikely sources: a conversation with "someone [she] met on the road who had been in prison [who] called that time his 'grey days'" and Princess Mononoke, a film by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, where "darkness is represented by an iron ball as a sort of demon that ruins you from the inside out."
'Maw', another standout is, despite its title, the closest thing to a ballad on 'Abyss'. It's almost gentle, with carefully layered percussion that allows Wolfe's voice to appear in space. It's a simple formula that allows the track to build slowly. Clearly, when it is deprived of reverb, Wolfe's voice is as wraith-like and potent as ever and a fitting central motif to her most successful effort yet.
Words: Alex Green
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