Chelsea Wolfe’s new album “Hiss Spun” opens sludgy and heavy with the track “Spun,” distorted guitars and bass pounding along with the drums, Wolfe’s voice sliding and curving over the seething mass of the rhythm section, while the lead guitar makes lush bends and twisted angles. I’m not 100% sure who’s playing which guitar lines, but Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen appears throughout this album and is credited with guitar on this opening track, and I cannot help but imagine this is his lead work here in the opening minutes. It’s good lead work, and works well with Wolfe, but it’s perhaps a little less unique that the odd guitar lines that accompanied Wolfe’s rise in tracks like “Mer” and “Moses.”
The opening guitar line in “16 Psyche” is perhaps more reminiscent of those earlier guitar lines, waves of extra distortion piling on for the chorus, while Wolfe’s insistent anxious pained voice sings straight lines and cyclical curves.
Wolfe’s voice sounds Cranes-esque in its deep pool of reverb on “Vex,” with its electronicish beat and saturated distortion alternating with cleaner tremelo lines. Isis vocalist Aaron Turner appears in this track, pushing the song deeper towards traditional black metal territory. Wolfe frequently collaborates with other musicians – Russian Circles, King Dude, Myrkur – as well as inviting them to perform on her records. I could do without the scream metal vocals here, though, much as I could do without the hip-hop guests on Lana Del Rey’s last album, but I trust they serve a purpose in the purging Wolfe speaks about in an open letter to fans at the release of “Hiss Spun.”
In that letter Chelsea Wolfe wrote “I’ve long had an affinity for white noise and there are moments on Hiss Spun dedicated to it, using sampled sounds from my own life as well as from history,” thought perhaps the 74 second interlude “Strain” falls somewhat short of the madness and wild noise I was hoping for on reading that.
The cold uncertainty and confusion of “Culling,” with its isolated vocals and muffled toms, opens into a startlingly beautiful chorus, almost “Ok Computer” era Radiohead-esque in its texture.
The toms pick up speed in “Particle Flux,” reaching a kind of Cure “Pornography” intensity, following which “Twin Fawn” is a sort of Black Sabbath psychedelic interlude pierced by moments of great explosive violence and injury.
The layered drums and syth-sounding guitars in “Offering” lend the track that later Cranes feel we heard on “Vex,” while “Static Hum” continues that Cure “Pornography” tom barrage over the kind of guitar line redolent of earlier Wolfe albums – singular and strange. Which makes sense because this is one of the tracks which does not feature Troy Van Leeuwen but instead features long-time Wolfe band member Bryan Tulao, a master of resonance, odd slightly discordant riffs, and ringing spaces, as opposed to Van Leeuwen’s more flagrant and note-heavy style.
The two minute “Welt” opens with 40 seconds of noise like feedback, drills, TV static, before Chelsea’s voice, staccato and stark, fades in for a minute over a bare piano track.
Perhaps my favorite on the album, “Two Spirit” uses a simple alternating two minor-chord progression to showcase the sheer cold beauty of Wolfe’s vocals, soft and lonely, climbing in the last minute and a half into a heavier and darker outro.
“Scrape” closes the album out, its noise intro segueing into a roiling guitar that breathes in and out as Wolfe’s voice rises to incredible pitches with piercing intensity.
I can’t wait to see Wolfe live this month at Irving Plaza, and experience her performance of what she has described as a “brutally honest” album, “dark” and yet “freeing,” representing “a certain kind of self-acceptance I’ve long strived for as an introverted, anxiety-riddled person.” I hear you Chelsea, I hear you.