There’s an undeniable joy in watching something that has been preparing to pounce for so long finally take the leap. Where there was once stillness in the air, there is now a sense of urgency and the feeling of excitement. We as listeners should be thankful that we are not the ones on the receiving end of this violent lunge. The hunter in this case is singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, while the prey is the art she presents to the world. With her newest work, Hiss Spun, we not only see Chelsea in the moment of her victorious pounce, but we also have the great fortune of consuming her kill.
While she has long been a quality source for dark folk, electronic and metal-tinged tunes, Hiss Spun is where Chelsea’s vision feels fully realized. It takes the electronic prominence of her fourth LP Pain Is Beauty, the raw aggression of cuts from her last album Abyss and the dark intimacy of her sophomore album Apokalypsis and combines these elements into product that cannot and will not be denied. These elements are not just thrown together, but have been steadily amplified in strength through each of her releases, which is well worth observing if you have the time. The most standout element is how heavy the music has become. With each release she has gotten heavier and heavier, but this is without a doubt the release that pushes it over the edge into “crushing” territory.
Album opener “Spun” kicks the record off in grand fashion, with a swaggering, heavily distorted/fuzzy guitar riff, lumbering drums and Chelsea’s haunting, ethereal vocals. At times, the drums freak out along with the guitar and start to dive into chaos, but they are soon reigned in and reminded of exactly where they are. This song is the culmination of everything that Chelsea Wolfe has been working towards with each release and the best part is that the hits keep coming. “Vex,” featuring Aaron Turner of Isis and Sumac, kicks off with a crushingly crunchy guitar line that gives way to another eerily gorgeous vocal, with Aaron showing up in the last half of the song with some well delivered growls. The album is also host to electronic interludes as well as full on electronic tracks, the first being the sinister “Strain,” which sounds as though it was forged in the dark crevices of your mind that house those things that should be left to rattle their chains. Not necessarily scary things, but that which is overtly disconcerting and disturbing. These tracks don’t serve as overt bridges between other songs, but rather as their own dark hallways to doors best left unopened.
There are moments where the heavy and sublime are bridged, with a prime example being “Twin Fawn.” One moment you’re listening to the clean strumming of a guitar accompanied by soft drums with Chelsea’s vocals floating above them both in a dark cloud; the next, you’re being thrown to the wolves as distortion and pulsing, pounding percussion tear you apart. This track best exemplifies two key components of her overall sound coming together not only effortlessly, but deftly. Creations like this can only come from an artist that understands the ins and outs of their craft. Without a shred of doubt, Chelsea has not only come to understand what her art is at its core, but also what she wants it to be.
Hiss Spun is Chelsea Wolfe’s triumphant mission statement that could not exist were it not for her steady artistic evolution. She is the centerpiece of her album cover, cloaked but not hidden, ready to pounce on the nearest thing that dare comes her way. A black mass in the corner of a white room, she is a clear threat to all that oppose her. She has long prepared for this moment and is poised for when it crosses her threshold. Long training to be a hunter of her own self expression, the fruits of her constant labor are now paying dividends. There is nothing so satisfying as watching an artist grab their own art by the throat and wringing every single drop of blood from it with terrifying efficiency, except for maybe being able to drink some of the sweet nectar she drains from its carcass. In this case, as observers and as listeners, our cup runneth over.