Rating:There’s a common conversation in both the film and video game world over the execution of horror. Many suggest that most modern slasher flicks aren’t scary because they’re too produced and too glossy. Keeping the monsters of the dark shrouded in murk allows the audience project their own fears onto the screen. No one knows our own fears better than ourselves, making the gritty lo-fi thrills of V/H/S, the YouTube horror series Marble Hornets or Cthulhu nightmare simulator Slender more terrifying than their wealthier counterparts. Chelsea Wolfe knows this well. She avoids both the sugar coated poison of say, St. Vincent or Grizzly Bear, but she also refuses the straight gore of grindcore. Her terror comes from things alluded to that are never truly seen. She hides away in haze and sickly gauze, poking through the shadows to whisper snatches of nightmare-inducing notes and words.
The Grime and the Glow and Apokalypsis are Wolfe’s first two records, but they don’t sound like the music of a budding songwriter. The Grime and the Glow is a hyper-lo-fi collection of horrors, recorded in such a dismal and dirty way that it could have been made decades ago. That lends the album power though; for example, the night-terror “Benjamin” spirals and swirls, with the lower notes of the piano fading into dusk, creating a sense of unease similar to the work of Warpaint. For most of The Grime and the Glow, it’s just Wolfe and her guitar, spinning disturbing riffs with her possessed, intoning voice overhead. Wolfe’s cohort in spookiness, King Dude, would have played up the camp on songs like “Cousins of the Antichrist,” but Wolfe seems to play it straight, crafting what sounds like a lost Summer of Love tune that went on a very bad acid trip. She’s aware that the times between dreams and waking life are when our imaginations are most potent, and every odd shape in the darkness can become a lumbering monster. The six minute long “Halfsleeper” nails those feelings perfectly; it’s a track that enraptures the fear that anyone who has experienced sleep paralysis is familiar with.
Apokalypsis is The Grime and the Glow’s more polished brother, but it still holds on to the core darkness. The first true track on the album, “Mer,” shudders along at a twitching pace with Wolfe’s halting voice conjuring strange spells. The songs here bring to mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men with “To the Forest, Towards the Sea,” “The Wasteland” and “Pale on Pale.” That doomed, bleak aesthetic is central to Apokalypsis. The Grime and the Glow is a scarier album, but Apokalypsis carries a fatalist melancholy that’s hard to shake. Wolfe’s words of “We could be two straight lines in a crooked world,” nearly sound hopeful, but they’re colored with the despair that she’s fooling herself. Apokalypsis, from title to the last note, is one of the most brutally nihilistic works of the decade. Apokalypsis holds two remakes of songs from The Grime and The Glow, “Bounce House Demons” (renamed here as “Demons”) and “Moses,” each replacing terror with a defeatist tone. This makes Apokalypsis terrifying in a very different way; this is the horror that seeps into the space that hope and happiness once filled. The dread of never feeling joy again is just as potent as a fear of the dark. These two tracks are a testament to Wolfe’s brilliant talents in forging emotions in her songs. It’s rare to hear an artist convey fright through music so well, and it’s nearly unique to hear a songwriter to master many forms of fear.