PICK OF THE WEEK: Wolfe pushes her sound further with sludgy, crushing new record ‘Hiss Spun’

Photo by Nick Fancher

Chris Jericho is a pro wrestler who is known for always returning with a different edge to his gimmick, no matter how long he’s been away. Come on. You know this is a quasi-wrestling blog. Anyhow, that new approach every time keeps him fresh and allows him to try new things character-wise that might not have worked in other incarnations of his persona.

I can make a similar comparison to Chelsea Wolfe, although she doesn’t compete in pre-determined fights. That I know of. Instead, with each new release she brings to the world, you get a completely different side of the artist and music that follows suit. Her latest album “Hiss Spun,” her sixth release overall, continues that constant evolution that’s marked her career from day one. It’s not that if you put on this 12-track, 49-minute release that you won’t know it’s her. She never compromises her identity. Rather, the music is markedly different than what we heard on 2015’s “Abyss” or 2013’s “Pain Is Beauty.” On this record, Wolfe is heavier, sludgier, coming as close to being classified as metal as she ever has in her career (that Burzum cover aside). Here, Wolfe embraces the darkness of the world, the veritable running mouth of shit that assaults us in the media each day with the worst news possible (at least for that day). But she digs deeper and tries to find a glimmering light beneath her, some beacon of positivity in her being that causes her to not just survive the onslaught, but thrive. Along with bandmates Ben Chisholm (synth, bass, electronics), Bryan Tulao (guitars), and Jess Gowrie (drums), they align with other creative forces including Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age, Failure) and Aaron Turner (Sumac, Old Man Gloom, Mammifer) to create the grimiest work of her career.

The album starts with “Spun,” a noisy, sludgy piece that settles into a groove, a fairly simple but effective chorus, with Wolfe wailing, “You leave me restless, you leave me hung.” All elements boil to the surface, as sounds clash, she warbles under the chaos, and it all ends in a moan. “16 Psyche” is a pounder, one that’ll be huge live, especially with its surging chorus. Before that, the verses slink dangerously, as strong guitar work tends to the fires. Later, her voice reaches higher, while that crushing chorus crashes at the end. “Vex” has guitars simmering and her breathy singing, moving into gazey melodies and a dream state. Then, Turner’s unmistakable lion roar joins her voice, as the song rings out. “Strain” is an interlude that couldn’t come at a better time, as your heart needs a rest, and then it’s into “The Culling,” a slower, shadowy song built by a ghostly pace, echoing drums, and Wolfe calling, “My tongue on your pulse, my finger in your wound.” The noise gets weird, as the chorus sweeps, as the final moments trickle off. “Particle Flux” is another killer, with Wolfe lashing, “Though you try to swallow me whole, I succumb to nothing” amid agitated guitars and an intensity that picks up and delivers pain.

“Twin Fawn” begins as a gentle hush, with guitars spilling in and the pace feeling like it’s lulling you into a dream. But then it rips open, with Wolfe howling, “You cut me open,you lived inside!” and from there, things surge into dangerous terrain. The quiet does return for a stretch, but that burst lurks on the horizon, bringing a devastating end. “Offering” sits in a synth haze and is a nice change of pace, melting into the mists, as beats tap, and the song takes on a gothy, foggy ambiance. “Static Hum” has guitars stinging, as Wolfe’s voice floats over the power. The song kicks up and gets mean and gritty, as the verses haunt, the chorus easily inserts itself into your head, and the track hits a doom-infested finish. “Welt” is an interlude with cosmic wooshes and zaps, drizzling piano, and soft singing. “Two Spirit” starts in a bed of acoustics, as Wolfe pushes her voice higher, and the ambiance feels smoky and delicate. The pace then switches up, feeling rustic and windy, as Wolfe vulnerably calls, “Show me your bruises,” as if she is comparing notes. Guitars threaten from behind, but the bulk of the track stays pulled back. Closer “Scrape” pulls the bandage away hard, as noise sizzles, her voice slithers, and the storm builds. The singing then switches to panicked and urgent, while the drums penetrate, a noise squall rises, and Wolfe’s final words hit like a jagged edge to the chest.

It’s hard to imagine a time when Wolfe isn’t reinventing herself, which is why a new record from her always is an exhilarating, even mysterious experience. “Hiss Spun” may take some visits for total absorption (I needed them just because of my overindulgence in “Abyss”), but once it settles into your blood, there’s no removing its effect. These are 12 infectious, powerful, heavy songs that batter and enrapture all at the same time.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.chelseawolfe.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/chelsea-wolfe

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/