(This is Wil Cifer‘s review of the new album by Chelsea Wolfe, which is out now on the Sargent House label.)
Metal is a sound. Heavy is a feeling. There are plenty of bands that on paper are metal, but when played are not heavy. There are some entire genres of metal that might be suited for the Friday night D&D game or drinking mead with your mates, but are not heavy. Then there are artists who are not metal, but given their sense of darkness, despair, or pure sonic gravity, are heavier than a great number of metal bands. Artists like Swans, Diamanda Galas, and The Birthday Party come to mind. Chelsea Wolfe is also one of those.
Her Burzum cover brought her to the attention of metal fans early in her career before she caught the ear of the indie rock crowd. I have obviously covered her here before, since I tend to prefer sonic heaviness and melancholic heaviness over metallic heaviness. This album falls more under melancholic heaviness and is less sonically heavy than her past three albums.
I did not check out any of the singles leading up to this album and went into it totally fresh. Of course I am pleased that the opening track (“The Mother Road”) reminds me more of Mistake In Parting. This is because she sings out in her full voice rather than in her other breathy spectral tone. Her more ghostly singing style does crop up. This is not as rock ‘n’ roll or grungy as Mistake in Parting. The album is stripped down but at times still atmospheric. It is not a rehash of Unknown Rooms despite being acoustic at its core.
“American Violence” dials up the atmosphere by another degree. There is a more PJ Harvey-like mood to the title track. She drops into a lower register with ambience lurking in the background.
A darker brooding fills “Deranged For Rock & Roll”. Her voice has a dreamy shimmer. It was funny because my iTunes shuffled over to either Unknown Rooms or Mistake In Parting in-between songs. This allowed me to see how different it is from those songs. “Be All Things” could have been one of the mellower moments on Abyss . There is a slight hint of country here, putting it in the same zip code as Marissa Nadler sonically.
Ambience plays a larger role in “Erde”. This one is surreal folk. More intangible in terms of traditional song-writing. A darker more serpentine element slithers out over the song’s climax. “When Anger Turns to Honey” is minimalist with interesting vocal layering and production. “Dirt Universe” works off of a more solid arrangement that builds in instrumentation as it progresses, carrying a more familiar melancholy to the mood of this song.
“Little Grave” is such a fragile folk song it took multiple listens, not unlike things we have heard from her before. With it’s cooed refrain of “Hell is on earth”, “Preface to a Dream Play” catches my ear due to the subtle oddities involved. The production choices and how things sit in the mix is to the left of what we have heard from her in the past. Not dramatically, but on “Highway”, which is pretty straight forward, it’s things like the vocal layering that stand out.
She has once again made an album that shows similar shades of what she does, but from a new angle. If you have yet to check her out and primarily listen to metal, I would suggest listening to Hiss Spun or Abyss before checking this one out. If you are already a fan then you know what to expect.