Pushes Wolfe’s music to its darker and heavier limits.
For all the heavy metal influences Chelsea Wolfe embraced on Abyss, she manages to strike a bewitching balance between that dark gothic rock and ethereal vocals on Hiss Spun, her fifth studio album. In some respects, this album pushes Wolfe’s music to its darker and heavier limits, but there is a handful of lighter tracks that balance out these extremes and recall earlier work, before this heavier sound took root. The emotional range on display in the music comes across as all the more authentic for Wolfe’s ability to harness and measure her dark impulses.
The opening trio of tracks on Hiss Spun serves as a fitting encapsulation of the album, ranging from quiet pleading to full-on wailing. “Spun” opens the album with grating metallic squealing before settling into thrumming guitar and Jess Gowrie’s heavy percussion. Over this bass-heavy sludge, Wolfe’s airy vocals coo “You leave me reckless, you leave me sick/ I destroy myself and then I want it again/ Spun/ Heavy love/ Coiled and spun.” The track ends with Wolfe rattling off her fears in a half whisper as drums and guitar push forward into a spiraling breakdown. “16 Psyche” slowly builds the guitar back up from its silent abyss, rising to meet Wolfe’s accusatory call, “I can’t/ She said, I’d save you but I can’t hide,” the last word released as a relieving sigh. “Vex,” on the other hand, begins with metallic guitars from Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen before quieting for Wolfe’s haunting vocals. However, this song soon unleashes doom metal in the form of a distorted growl from former Isis frontman Aaron Turner. Each of these songs builds to a cacophony but slows to a creeping pace more than once before a raging finale.
In contrast to the heaviest moments on Hiss Spun, the sparse, atmospheric tracks see Wolfe’s bleak lyrics and Van Leeuwen’s measured guitar do double duty. “The Culling” matches its ominous title with its eerie, two-note guitar loop and Wolfe’s confusingly romantic and carnal, brutal cries of “Sweet dead eyes.” On “Static Hum,” Wolfe produces a very Björk-circa-Volta sound, albeit slowed down, with its tribalish percussion seemingly trading lines with the throbbing guitar. Other than its chorus, “Twin Fawn” is the most removed from the raging metal that characterizes most of the album. Opening with a rare acoustic guitar, gentle bongos and whispers from Wolfe, it’s content to be a quietly devastating track about loss—that is, until it bursts into screaming distortion. Similarly, “Two Spirit” features a gently, ploddingly strummed acoustic guitar, accentuated by atmospheric cymbals.
One thing’s for sure, Hiss Spun is a deeply emotional album, and it’s telling that Wolfe can hardly complete a song without erupting into relentless distorted breakdowns. This is not surprising for a musician who named an album Pain Is Beauty, especially since Wolfe has referred to the album as an “emotional purge.” Several tracks, including opener “Spun,” speak to self-destructive love, which is perhaps best illustrated on “Twin Fawn” with the invasive “You cut me open/ You lived inside/ You killed the wonder.” Wolfe tends to personify and animate her feelings, turning them into physical forces or things that torment her. It’s no wonder that she refers to a “perfect psychosis” on “16 Psyche” as the result of a world that quells this doomed love. Sometimes if all you can do is feel, it seems ideal to be rid of this torment.