Chelsea Wolfe: Hiss Spun

- For a woman who so clearly reigns over contemporary gothic music, Chelsea Wolfe continues to pack a lot that surprises into her releases. To be honest, it’s probably that ability to subvert expectations that allows her to sit astride that throne, unchallenged. I don’t know about you but there’s only so many straight-up, melancholy neofolk albums  I can hear before I need to go and spice it up with some death metal. On the evidence of Wolfe’s latest LP, Hiss Spun, I’m guessing she’s feeling the same; as we’ve been coming to understand for a while now, this isn’t neofolk any more.

I’ve heard the volume of noise pouring out of the record described -rather broadly, maybe too broadly- as ‘black metal influences’, which, arguably, could put her in the same part of the heavy music spectrum as a band like Deafheaven. Both artists get tagged as ‘black metal’, but, really, doesn’t that have more to do with the increasingly mutant sounds that have been filling ‘black metal’ as a genre than anything else? Moreover, if Wolfe and Deafheaven are now meeting in black metal, they’re doing so by travelling in completely opposite directions. Deafheaven is a thunderous band that’s adopted some more forgiving affectations like shoegaze, post-rock and folk; Chelsea Wolfe by contrast is ever upping the brutality of her music, trying to find a vehicle which can adequately deliver her mood.

It’s quite a mood, too, even if the feelings Wolfe describes aren’t exactly revolutionary, especially for Wolfe herself. Hiss Spun returns to the themes of previous full-length, Abyss, where broken romance was destroying her from the inside out. If there is a thematic progression it’s that Wolfe is even more of a husk, now, than before; she paints that inward emptiness with a deal of outward sound and fury.

There is so much of that maelstrom of guitar noise, a lot of it with -a-la Deafheaven- a distinctly all-enveloping, shoegaze texture, it’s quite possible to lose track of the subtler elements of what Wolfe puts into her music. Like a lonesome Cocteau Twin she shrills and warbles over the top, but very nearly vanishes in the roar.

If you don’t listen quite carefully, a lot of the record can begin to sound a little too similar, songs failing to adequately distinguish themselves. Even then, some are impossible to mistake, like Vex, which features the ringing guitar work of QOTSA’s Troy Van Leeuwan but, even more distinctively Isis frontman Aaron Turner tearing his throat apart on some properly black metal. Given its brutality it’d be a surprising choice for a single, if it weren’t just a pretty great song and besides, it’s just one of what, four now? Hiss Spun leaked on to the internet quite some time ago and Chelsea Wolfe has made the best of the situation by continually pulling people back, re-familiarising all those ears ahead of the official release.

It’s an astute move, I think, this is a record that needs time. As I said, there’s a lot of noise to get past to hear what’s really on offer. The diverse elements of Wolfe’s last LP, Abyss, really stood out: the folk from the metal from the electronica, but here the vortex of her sound is spinning them almost indistinguishably together. The contrasts are still there but only rarely will you hear them starkly, as on the lengthy excellence of Twin Fawn, going from folk whisper to post-rock thunder. More often you’ll have to find your own way in, to get beyond the raw power and really appreciate the music. I could even imagine that Wolfe leaked the thing herself to try and get her fans to come to terms with something difficult but rewarding. I mean, it’s not as if anyone is really making money out of records, so why not?

If you aren’t a committed fan, one that gobbled up the early leak, I can still commend Hiss Spun to you. A complex and abrasive record, it will confuse and hurt before it delivers its true worth. Finally however it can only speak to the increasing subversiveness of Wolfe’s work, which is very much part of what puts her at the top of contemporary gothic music.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Hiss Spun
Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Record Label: (Sargent House / Redeye)