Chelsea Wolfe’s “Hiss Spun” is Hit and Miss
by Leon Sommer-Simpson
Chelsea Wolfe, a 33-year-old California singer-songwriter, is on the scene once again with her fifth studio album, “Hiss Spun,” which attacks the worlds of rock and metal with her gothicism. Wolfe first received mainstream recognition beyond the world of underground fandom in 2011, with the release of her album “Apocalypsis.” With each following album, she adopted a new style. She achieved a fantastic melodic height on her acoustic folk-rock album “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Sounds,” and a dark-wave sound on her album “Pain is Beauty,” which embraces some synth-based electronic instrumentation.
“Hiss Spun” is Wolfe’s darkest and most hardcore project to date, with heavy metal guitars blaring on nearly every track, contrasted by her soft, ghostly voice. The album’s sound is surely influenced by the producer Kurt Ballou, a member of the Massachusetts metalcore band Converge, as well as by the guitar from Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age. The first track of the album, “Spun,” has continuous and draining electric guitar met by punchy and monolithic primal drumming. However, the track hardly separates itself in a distinguishing way from other doom metal, and the ending meanders strangely with an odd guitar solo and whispering vocals. This track’s slow pace and conjuring of the sense of dread, like many other songs on the album, characterizes her music as doom metal. The second song, “16 Psyche,” is altogether a different story. On this song, when the shattering and abrasive sludgecore guitar meets her intoxicating vocals, the interplay achieves an unparalleled sound.
Wolfe hits a more experimental note with the industrial and scratchy interlude “Strain,” and “Particle Flux.” Each is driven by monotonous, fast-paced drumming and a quiet guitar that lingers in the path of distortion between the choruses and flickers into the world of melody for a short stay. The eery and beautiful “Twin Fawn” enchants with harp-like strokes of the guitar strings. The easy softness of the song is embraced by the listener as a break from the world of bombastic instrumentation and doom and gloom, but listeners are thrown straight back into the abyss on the thunderous hook.
Wolfe’s lyrics throughout are as haunting as one might imagine from the wünderkind of the goth-rock scene, touching on themes of love and distorted reality throughout the project. “The Culling” is a definite highlight of the album. It slowly and methodically builds to a climax, with freakish lyrics to boot: “One ear to the ground // One eye on the room // My tongue on your pulse // My finger in your wound.” Many of the experimental songs, like “Welt,” fall flat, but the closing track “Scrape” is aggressive and fast paced, adding energy to the end of the album. Overall, the project lacks consistency, and certain songs end up monotonous and droning, but the best of the LP, like “The Culling” and “Twin Fawn,” have highs, lows, and chilling vocals that are absolutely worth the listen.