Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun (Cover Artwork)

Chelsea Wolfe

Hiss Spun (2017)

Sargent house

Chelsea Wolfe is more than glib descriptors such as “Princess of Darkness” or “Goth Queen” would have you believe. Her aesthetic is undoubtedly influenced by metal icons of yore, but to downplay her musical style with a disingenuous nickname is a mistake. Wolfe has shifted tonal gears with every one of her releases since her official debut in 2010, weaving in elements of gothic folk, electronica, and doom metal throughout her discography with ease. Hiss Spun, Wolfe’s most recent full-length, emerges epically from the fold with hardcore bastions Kurt Ballou and Aaron Turner contributing engineering support and vocals, respectively.

“Spun” opens the album with a heavy, sludgy guitar riff and ominous drum beat that trudge in lockstep as Wolfe sings of self-destruction in the face of an inescapable love. Three minutes into the song a wall of industrial noise crashes and swirls around the opening riff while Wolfe repeatedly croons the titular word in an angelic register. “16 Psyche”, one of the record’s strongest songs, begins with a classically metal guitar melody only to be met with some colorful, towering riffs offered up by Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen. Wolfe beautifully howls over the turmoil: “ ‘I can’t’, she said / ‘I’d save you but I can’t love’ ” with a tortured timbre that is endemic on Hiss Spun.

The third track “Vex” is a nightmare melody, subtle and haunting. Van Leeuwen’s soaring guitar parts and Jess Gowrie’s throbbing percussion construct the perfect foundation to Aaron Turner’s well-placed growls. The interlude “Strain” provides some respite from the built-up gloom with the tenacity of a nervous heartbeat, out of which Wolfe comfortingly introduces “The Culling”, an atmospheric lamentation that spans six minutes without losing grip. In numerous moments on the record Wolfe’s vocals echo the eclectic dreaminess of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Björk, particularly on the shadowy tracks “Twin Fawn” and “Static Hum”, but her lyricism retains its signature darkness and distress.

“Particle Flux”, “Welt”, and closer “Scrape”, equal in their disturbingly visceral song titles, also present exciting ruptures of noise and driving tempos. The songs fill their share of the sonic space from door to window: chunky bass lines, charging drum beats, rib cage-rattling hums, and walls of noise. Despite these seemingly impenetrable musical forces, Wolfe’s voice powerfully cuts to the forefront and refuses to be buried underneath the surrounding turmoil.

As subgenres grow more curated in terms of their expected elements and traits, originality becomes more difficult to achieve. Chelsea Wolfe, while emulating the slower tempos and sludgier sounds associated with doom metal, has altered the game a bit with the gorgeous melodies, evocative vocals, and musical arrangements that run rampant on Hiss Spun.