Album Review : Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun (2017)
Californian singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe released a new album titled Hiss Spun on September 22nd. Not sure how it managed to split past me, to be honest. For those who don't know, Chelsea Wolfe is an underground gothic rock artist that has taken the music industry by storm over the last five years. You may not know her, but you've heard her pounding and ominous songs on shows like Game of Thrones and Fear the Walking Dead. Hiss Spun is not her most nuanced release, but it's eerie, crippling and remarkably immersive. What it sometimes lack in vision, it compensates with power and reliability.
Hiss Spun is a heavy, guitar-driven gothic rock album. It's the most prominent sound on it and the only one you'll remember if you give the album only one listen. The slow, brooding guitar riffs that are louder than Chelsea Wolfe's voice in the majority of the songs. There's not much of a rhythm section on Hiss Spun. It's just Wolfe and her guitar at the forefront, but there's a lot of layers and details to her performance. There are black metal and shoegaze influence on several songs and even male death metal vocals on Vex, which pleasantly contrasts with her aerial soprano performance. It operates within clear and somewhat narrow boundaries, yet it explores the space between with admirable drive and passion.
My favorite songs on Hiss Spun are 16 Psyche, Twin Fawn and Scrape, three gloomy, charged and bombastic performances with memorable choruses. On Twin Fawn, Wolfe sings: you cut me open, you live inside/you killed the wonder, nowhere to hide/I held you sober, white smoke and low life/A big pill to swallow, a mountain to climb, which is a long and complicated chorus made powerful by her grandiloquent delivery. She leans into these lines: You CUT ME open/You KILLED the wonder, etc. It takes a special talent to make such intricate songwriting come to life. 16 Psyche's chorus is a lot simpler (it's a simpler song, really), but Wolfe uses the same dynamic: I CAN'T, she said/I'd SAVE YOU but I CAN'T LOVE. Her vocal performance is an major reason why Hiss Spun works.
Hiss Spun is an atmospheric album. It's meant for you to put headphones on and surrender to it. There are songs on it that don't make sense on their own, but have their place in the flow of the album. Instrumental piece Strain is one of these or Static Hum or even Welt, which is the most skippable song on the record. The quietest, most intimate songs are ill at ease on Hiss Spun, caught between moments of sonic intensity. They don't offer respite, they break the dramatic momentum the other songs work so hard to create. I'm thinking of the aerial, almost pop-y Offering or Two Spirit. It breaks the cohesiveness that would be otherwise airtight on Hiss Spun.
By any means, Hiss Spun is a courageous and deceptively simple album that Chelsea Wolfe carries with drilling guitars and a powerful vocal performance. She creates a crippling, oppressive atmosphere that will make you lose your sense of time and even your sense of self. I thought she overdid it just a little. Hiss Spun had a couple extra songs that were counterintuitive to what the other songs on the album. Sure, they displayed her songwriting talent (which is great), but it broke the atmosphere in key moments. Overall, Hiss Spun is a solid, atmospheric album that displays the maturity and the courage Chelsea Wolfe gained as a songwriter in so little time. It stretches itself thin at times, but there is still a lot of material I'd go back to without hesitation.