I wasn’t familiar with Chelsea Wolfe before “Abyss,” but now I wonder where she’s been all my life. Vocally she is a dead ringer for PJ Harvey, and therefore gets a huge mark in the plus column right away. Musically she is backed by what could be called industrial/electronica, which sometimes resembles the bass-heavy grinding of Author & Punisher (though drums, bass, and guitar are somehow still the conventional instruments driving these tracks.) In fact, the initial track, “Carrion Flowers,” sounds so much like A&P that I would have guessed a collaboration was behind it. In addition to being the album’s first track, it was the first song I heard from the release before listening to it in its entirety. I found it gimmicky then, and though I find it less so now, it is but a pale indication of what follows.
“Abyss” is an incredibly dark album, and it grows darker with each step. Where “Carrion Flowers” is dark in a conventional way, second track “Iron Moon” is where it becomes clear that “Abyss” is something special. Chelsea gets her PJ on big time here, with an evocative chorus full of longing. “Dragged Out” achieves weight and punch more successfully than “Carrion Flowers” through a pulsing drone and the sound of an ominous tolling bell. “Maw” is pure PJ, perhaps more than any other track here. “Grey Days” is a highlight, Wolfe sounding positively ethereal and ghostly on the vocal while backed by viola, to chilling effect. “After the Fall” sounds like Depeche Mode gone psychotic, throbbing and burning with a pervasive darkness bordering on violence, and “Crazy Love” drops all pretense of heaviness and achieves a stark power with just acoustic guitar, keys, and viola.
As disturbing and dismal as the songs have typically been to this point, the triple threat of tracks 8-10 are like an emotional atom bomb. The apocalyptic collapse begins with “Simple Death,” a plodding, fragile tune with gut-wrenching lyrics of loss and hopelessness. If you’ve ever felt helpless and abandoned in a remorseless world, this is your terrifying soundtrack. “Survive” channels PJ Harvey again, in the best possible way, with a beautiful but unnerving darkness that hints at something even more sinister beneath the surface of its shimmering black waters. Near the end it steps up the tempo to an insistent, thudding pace then suddenly dissolves in a wash of buzz and distortion. These tracks leave one ill at ease, nervous prey for the sucking void that is “Color of Blood.” Smothered under what sounds like a monolithic keyboard drone, but what must be bass or guitar since only those are credited, Wolfe sounds muffled and strange as if singing through a mouthful of cotton balls. Far more interesting, though (and by interesting I mean FUCKING CREEPY), is that she sounds like she’s being shadowed and echoed by a male voice in tandem with hers. It’s as if the recording captured some paranormal activity, the pining and yearning of some damned soul in the darkness, pleading for escape and release from purgatorial misery. It is enormously discomforting and makes my skin crawl, which of course means I absolutely adore it.
“The Abyss” rounds out this macabre journey with piano tinkling that is intentionally off-key. The effect aligns well with the distressing quality of the rest of the album, but the song falls just on the side of quirky instead of truly menacing. Still, the damage has been more than done already. Once “Abyss” gets its hooks into you, it is impossible to listen to it without being left stricken and stunned at its gargantuan, seething gloom. Chelsea Wolfe may be the new master of the morose.
Worship at the altar of the dark queen, if you dare: https://chelseawolfe.bandcamp.com/album/abyss