Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss 01Singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe’s music doesn’t strictly reside under the heavy metal umbrella. However her unique form of dark artistry has captured quite a significant following within and outside of the metal community. It helped that she publicly confessed her love of black metal and recorded an emotive, ambient cover of Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction” to amplify her metal credentials. As such I’ve highlighted the latest chapter in the career of the LA-based artist as worthy of landing on the pages of AMG as an entry into the ‘not-quite-metal-but-shit-you-should-be-listening-to’ category. Depending on who you ask or what particular song or album of Wolfe’s you might be listening to at the time, her music can be loosely described as a shape-shifting amalgam of folk, goth, noise rock, electronica, drone and doom elements.

I caught wind of Wolfe’s immense talents on her 2013 masterwork Pain is Beauty, featuring surprise hit “Feral Love,” which received significant airplay when it accompanied the season four trailer of Game of Thrones. Backtracking through her prior albums offered further evidence of Wolfe’s impressive song-writing skills and deft blend of styles and textures, not to mention the raw emotion that bleeds from her ghostly and captivating voice. Fifth album Abyss is yet another ambitious and versatile addition to a growing body of work that marks another interesting and adventurous creative turn. Containing elements of her previous work and expanding into even darker and more unsettling terrain, Wolfe knocks it out of the park with a raw, emotionally draining and eclectic batch of tunes. Distorted guitars and droning synths, jarring percussion, downbeat electronica and industrial overtones are assorted into challenging and diverse compositions, which are difficult to penetrate initially, but reward the patient listener and reveal the myriad of instrumental subtleties and elusive hooks that lurk beneath the foggy layers.

Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss 02“Carrion Flowers” is an ominous, jarring opener featuring Wolfe’s intoxicating vocal melodies mingling with mangled industrial soundscapes and an underlying menace and foreboding vibe. Wolfe’s vocals frequently steal the limelight with her aching voice fragile and seductive one moment, mournful and menacing the next. Her expertly woven vocal melodies and harmonies leave lasting traces, while musically Abyss shifts restlessly between styles, from minimalist electronica and gloomy folk to a much harsher array of sounds and textures, siphoned into engaging and unpredictable arrangements. Wolfe’s expert grasp of soft-loud dynamics features prominently on the sublime “Iron Moon,” a song that glides between mournful restraint and sludgy bursts of doom, complete with soaring vocal melodies. The atmospheric and hallucinatory nature of Abyss is an apt fit with Wolfe’s lyrical documentation of her struggles with sleep paralysis and anxiety. “Simple Death” is perhaps the most spine-chilling and emotive examination of her personal demons with this rare disorder. Lyrically bleak yet poetic and heart-wrenching in its sadness, the moody ballad rides a simple tearjerking melody that’s incredibly moving, particularly when lines like, “Lost and alone in confusion, I’m screaming but I can’t wake up” are sung with such tenderness, desperation and emotion.

There’s an ominous and melancholic tone flooding the album, making for an intense and unsettling journey. But thankfully the dynamic song-writing and experimental dabbling ensures Abyss doesn’t quite plunge into razor grabbing gloom or monotony. The delicate, minimalist balladry of the beautiful “Maw,” bleak viola drenched thrum of “Grey Days,” and the bleeping electro dirge of “After the Fall” showcase the song-writing variety without slashing the threads of foreboding atmosphere, abstract melody and overall cohesion that binds the album.

Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss 03

Production is spot-on despite measuring a disappointing DR 5, with the levels of compression actually proving less detrimental to the finished product than one might expect. The in-your-face sound and menacing buzz only adds to the claustrophobic and nightmarish qualities of the album, with Wolfe’s tremendous voice comfortably penetrating the frequently dense waves of sound. My only gripes come down to superficial preferences like track sequencing and the fact that at nearly an hour in length Abyss is an emotionally exhausting ride. Really though, these are just petty nitpicks of a truly exceptional and compelling album.

Abyss may not qualify as metal, but it will likely go down as one of the darkest, most challenging and emotionally heavy releases of the year. Wolfe continues growing and evolving as an artist and her unique and highly innovative song-writing approach has hit yet another peak and yielded arguably her finest album to date.


Rating: 4.5 /5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sargent House
Websites: chelseawolfe.net | facebook.com/cchelseawwolfe
Releases Worldwide: August 7, 2015

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  • Great review!

  • Eddy Ferreira

    I Love Chelsea Wolfe Music, Huge fan ever since i first heard Apokalypsis, ..i wasn’t really expecting a review of her Newest Album here, pretty rad review too.

  • Meriyas

    This is a really well written review! The embedded track is very emotionally powerful and heavy, with the music capturing the mood of the lyrics perfectly. I’ve never heard of Chelsea Wolfe before, but I’ll have to check some of her stuff out now. Thanks!

    • All you need to do is go here https://chelseawolfe.bandcamp.com/

    • Luke_22

      Glad you dig it and thanks for the kind words. Be sure to check out her collaborations with King Dude as well.

  • Alex Pertsovitis

    Amazing

  • Martin Langley

    If you’re new to Chelsea Wolfe then check out her videos. Very dark, menacing, and a bit of a David Lynch vibe. Great review by the way.

  • Andrzej Telega

    Great new album by fantastic Artist. She is one of my very fav female singers now… And yes, her records feel very “metal”…

  • Luciano

    Ok, in a few words (without have even read the whole text, I admit): very glad to see this record reviewed and “understood” here. “Pain is Beauty” and “Abyss” are beautiful works of art for our contemporary, distorted and damned times.

  • manimal

    While I’ve initially been drawn to her music by the doomy electronica of the songs on Pain is Beauty, the album that really managed to hit home with me was Unknown Rooms. That album is just… naked. No other word for it. Acoustic guitar and voice, with the odd synth. I kept imagining her singing those songs in her abandoned old farm house, with her family strung up and long dead in the barn.

  • Roquentin

    Thank you for such a fitting review of a beautiful album.

  • Feytalist

    I wondered if I was going to see this album reviewed here :D

    Her music is difficult to get behind, given its eclectic mix of styles, but it generally works. Perhaps because of the intense emotion she imparts to it. She has an amazing voice too, doesn’t she. I like the more industrial feel of this album especially.

    But yeah, great review.

  • Great review. Carrion Flowers has earned a spot on my favorite songs of the year.

  • De2013

    Much appreciated! Great review. Always a pleasure to listen to new stuff outside the boundaries of metal.

  • gustman17

    From her name I thought she would be another subpar modern hard rock singer with angsty lyrics and borderline character with a few hystrionic traits and bad make up.

    This is one of those time when I love being proved wrong. Sweet.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    Hey this may not be metal in the general sense of the word but in spirit, definitely! This is like the doom-drone version of Manimalism.
    Very Very compelling listen! Thanks for this review!

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Was hoping for a review of this. ‘Survive’ made me fear for my safety upon listening to it for the first time, alone in my room at 2am. I am a horror film enthusiast so the fact a song could make me feel so unsafe is a grand feat. Truly a remarkable record. Brilliant review!

  • Worldeater

    She reminds of PJ Harvey ca. Is This Desire – era, who i really like. Vocal performance & instrumentation blend well in Iron Moon. Will check it out, thanks for bringing her to my attention.

    • Luke_22

      Yeah definitely hear the PJ influence, though Chelsea tends to veer into even darker and more challenging terrain.

      • Worldeater

        True but what PJ lacks in darkness she makes up with her whacky attitude and artistic lunacy.

        • Luke_22

          Fully agree, I’m a big fan of PJ’s music as well, though not so much her later work. She’s an incredjble artist though.

    • Check out this one, the PJ Harvey is really strong here.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATXL0y63eFM

      • Worldeater

        Thx, seems like I’ll have some catching up to do!

  • You wrote a fantastic 5.0 review and gave it a 4.5 score? Tsk tsk.

    • Half point deduction for the DR is how I feel. 😜

      • I’m the only one on the planet right now that has no idea what all the hubbub is about. I have tried and tried and tried with this record…nothing is clicking. As I told ferday in the forums, on paper, I should love Chelsea Wolfe. But alas, I do not.

        • Hey, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I used to stress about people not liking the stuff I think has universal appeal. But taste is a fickle beast.

    • Luke_22

      Ha yeah sounds that way but I would find it tough to give anything the esteemed 5.0 rating. This falls just short of perfection for me songwriting wise and though I like the production it could stand to be more dynamic.

  • Vice-President of Hell

    this record hardly remain me My Bloody Valentine

  • Celaeno

    no words. in love. her voice is absolutely haunting.

  • Wojtek

    Brilliant album; there’s something in it that – somehow – reminds me of Third and the Mortal and I have no clue, why. Perhaps the haunting, weird atmosphere. Fresh and modern, though, pretty fookin’ awesome, if you ask me.

  • Óðinn

    Great review. Thanks L. Saunders.

  • Requiem

    In theory, I should really like this… In practice… I love it. Carrion Flowers has hypnotized me.