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Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

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Chelsea Wolfe is terrifying.  Her horrifying, intense sound aesthetic is comparable to that haunting sense of imminent danger felt during every great horror film.  Her beautiful, dark, twisted compositions are executed in a way that digs deep into your soul, pulls your heart out and throws you down into her carefully imagined Abyss all without sacrificing the mature sound indicative of her mastery of modern music.  Wolfe’s artistry has always been intense, but with the release of Abyss, she has let her dark side go completely resulting in an incredible piece of music that has completely dominated the CKUT loud charts for the past two months.

Finding subtly in hardcore, loud music is an especially lofty task.  When an artist’s intensions lie in aggression they bring a certain intensity to every sound that sometimes leads to excess.  Despite pushing her instrumental boundaries and creating an especially dramatic backdrop for her sound, Wolfe has maintained the eerie, innocence that has made her vocal delivery so distinct in recent years.  When the songs reach their peak the voice of Wolfe soars over her heavy instrumentals like a beacon of light fighting the depth of the night.  The juxtaposition of Wolfe’s beautiful vocals and smashing instrumentals is important to her balanced ensemble sound and yet the drama of her high intensity instrumental playing is found in her vocal phrasing as well.  The vocals are like a beautiful white statue cloaked in a black shroud and surrounded by crows on an especially cloudy afternoon.

A lot of the success in aesthetic value is provided by the excellence in sound production.  Rather than turning to an obnoxious collection of guitar pedals or double bass drum madness, Wolfe (and her Producer John Congleton) have taken her somewhat simple rhythmic and melodic ideas and provided them with this fantastic depth.  Every guitar strum sounds like an explosion of rich velvety sound. Every drum hit has a real impact on the listener and what’s special about it is the effortless execution.  The listener isn’t left with the impression that the instrumentalists are prying the sound out of themselves.  The sound aesthetic is reached with such ease that it never becomes overbearing.

The growth displayed in Abyss is a big step in Chelsea Wolfe’s career.  When her albums are discussed in order it seems as if Wolfe has been pushing deeper and deeper into the darkness trying to find exactly how far she can take her instrumentation.  Her first album can almost be described as folk with a little quirk of evil in her vocal delivery.  As each album was released the backdrop became more and more intense and now she has found exactly where her musical hardness and wicked vocal interpretation meet. She has grown up a lot and now there’s this satisfaction and sense of refinement in her sound.  It almost obtains a sense of closure.

There’s always excitement when an artist is just beginning; the immaturity is very interesting and the bare-bones ideas of artistic direction always provide for something to think about. However, it is also very exciting when an artist is coming of age and finding their exact niche in the music world. Chelsea Wolfe seems to have found what she was looking for on Abyss. 

-Review by Donovan Burtan