It’s rare that an album portrays the artist’s intent perfectly. Issues with interpretation plague such an emotive genre; a lack of clarity, unrefined ideas, and sonic failings, render good ideas worthless in a world of 30-second previews. ‘Abyss’, the new effort from Californian Neo-folk/Goth darling Chelsea Wolfe, is a prodigious example of perfectly executed intent, an immersive and distinctly harrowing experience.
Beginning with a raw industrial pulse, almost animal in texture, lead single ‘Carrion Flower’ is effortlessly epic, in fact every track on ‘Abyss’ sounds like it’s ready-made for film. Those familiar with Chelsea Wolfe’s earlier work will notice the slightly new direction; doom-laden guitars adding a palpable, physical weight. While previous efforts might have been heavy in theme there are moments on ‘Abyss’, such as the final key change in ‘Iron Moon’, creating the kind of weight that suffocates the mind and the spirit.
In relation to the instrumentation, vocals are at times ethereal and are often sitting low in the mix, forcing focus and luring the listener further into the ‘Abyss’. As you fall deeper into the album her voice becomes like the anchor in an acid trip, the music swirling and writhing around your mind; respite offered only momentarily by the familiar repetitive nature of the vocal. And while this aspect can become predictable, the instrumentation is a continuing fascination; exploring new textures and layers every song. Unanticipated changes such as the end of ‘After The Fall’, keep the journey cumulative and exciting.
What Chelsea Wolfe does so well is create an unsettling, thought provoking atmosphere, a beautiful, haunting work of art that draws the listener in and invites reflection of the intricacies and inadequacies of the imagination; it’s a deeply personal experience. Songs like ‘Grey Days’; a lush movement of despairing melody, complimented by an entrancing Viola, and the hypnotic ‘Survive’, create a real connection between artist and audience. It’s not until ‘Crazy Love’ starts, a distorted acoustic guitar ballad, that you are returned a moment of sanity, until a detuning synth scrapes along the edges of your mind, plunging you back into a world of dreams.
The second half of ‘Abyss’ suffers a little from the more subdued feel. ‘Simple Death’ sounds like something out of Twin Peaks, offering a melancholy moment of reflection; perhaps a moment not quite in tune with the rest of the album. It feels slightly out of place and ineffectual, which is maybe the point, but followed by the mournful (and excellent) ‘Survive’ it fails to realise the intention. After ‘Simple Death’ I never really soaked back in to the same almost hallucinogenic state, not to say the last four songs are bad, they are far from that, but apart from ‘Survive’ and a few choice moments, the feeling largely fades until the avant-garde finale of ‘The Abyss’.
‘Abyss’ is a hugely creative work, immensely rewarding and far surpassing her previous efforts. There’s an incredible atmosphere created by the sounds they have chosen, but more so by the clear intent behind the art. ‘Abyss’ takes a hold of your mind and drags you into the deep.
(8.5/10 Kane Power)