Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun Album Review
Few independent artists have taken the musical risks like Chelsea Wolfe. First gaining notoriety for her dark folk style and later shifting to more ethereal darkwave, Wolfe has never failed in finding a new way to be creepy and ominous. While it can be easy to pin a medal on Wolfe for being a woman while taking these risks, to frame Wolfe’s career and music through such a narrative does a disservice to the complexity and utter horror she brings to her music. Now with Wolfe fully embracing elements of harsher genres such as doom metal and atmospheric sludge and black metal into her music, an entire new landscape of sonic directions open up for Wolfe and she executes on this new sound with admirable success.
Wolfe holds no punches on Hiss Spun, delving into disorienting and pained atmospheric sludge and black metal riffs head first. Tracks like “Spun,” “16 Psyche,” “Vex,” “Twin Fawn” and “Static Hum” see Wolfe’s normally pained and atmospheric instrumentals replaced fully by screeching guitars and pounding drums. Wolfe’s songwriting melds surprisingly well with these characteristics, using her vocal delivery less as a centerpiece for the songs and more as an additional flair to the dark atmosphere built by the instrumental. Wolfe clearly put time and work into understanding this genre and ensuring that she could do something unique with it rather than throwing her normal vocal style over something new with little experimentation.
But the songs that shine on the album are the ones that instead continue to stretch Wolfe’s signature darkwave sound. “Two Spirit” feels like what Wolfe was trying to work towards throughout the whole album, with harsh guitars mixed disturbingly under a softer vocal delivery for Wolfe, creating a disturbing juxtaposition that drills right to the center of the listener’s fears in the best way possible. “Scrape,” the album’s closer, takes a similar approach, though more divided into separate darkwave sections and atmospheric sludge metal sections. The percussion best serves Wolfe on this trick, pummeling away under her cries. Had these elements Wolfe was experimenting with been incorporated in this fashion throughout the whole album, it could have given Wolfe more room to stretch out and be diverse with her songs.
Instead, the album falls victim to redundancies over the course of the 48 minute run time. While Wolfe executes well on crafting the sound, she does little in the way of writing interesting songs with it. The quiet moments are where Wolfe feels most willing to break up the pace of the album and sprinkle a new idea onto the album, only to be followed up by heavier tracks that repeat the same tricks earlier on the album. Where this hurts the album the most is how it can clog up the mix of the album and take away from Wolfe’s vocals, in which Wolfe may be at her most strong lyrically. Wolfe’s imagery and live dissection of her deepest fears feel a step above her previous work, but is unfortunately harder to appreciate.
Hiss Spun isn’t a misstep for Wolfe and this in fact will more than likely be hailed by many as her best so far. She adopts genres with ease, even going as far to meld them into her style for greater effectiveness, but does so at the price of a consistent and cohesive record. It may be Wolfe’s most impressive record sonically, but feels more like a transitional point between experimental steps to figure out the formula rather than a full, confident step forward.
Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Senior / Public Relations