Sunday, January 17, 2016

No easy listening - Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss

I've read a few comparisons between Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey and it's an easy (if superficial) one to make. Black hair, guitars, the absence of a Y chromosome, etc, etc.

What Wolfe's latest record, Abyss, reminds me at least as much of, though, is PJ's old West Country comrade Tricky.

That's not to say it sounds like Bristol circa 1994, although Wolfe and Tricky share a few musical tropes: a fondness for jackhammer industrial beats and vocals submerged in noise and sludge among them. But what really makes them feel like kin to me is the bleakness of the aesthetic, the claustrophobia of the effect.

In short, Abyss is a gripping place to visit, but not necessarily a conventionally fun experience. The nearest thing to a conventional rock tune is second track Iron Moon - a quiet/loud/quiet treacle wig-out revolving around a chorus which proclaims 'My heart is still a tomb.' 

Elsewhere, lyrical and melody lines repeat over rythyms and grind which threaten to swallow the singer. Folk laments dissolve in a wash of noise or discordant piano. Guitars follow the 'lower and slower' edict of doom metal.

Now, we used to have a name for this sort of thing. Without apology, we used to call it goth. And there's nothing wrong with seriousness of purpose and a tragic aesthetic - and Wolfe absolutely nails both. The cold-sounding production works in her favour, too.

Abyss isn't easy listening because it's not meant to be. It's a piece of musical quicksand with something to say, and even if it's not an everyday listen, that counts for quite a lot in my book.

Here's the album on Bandcamp and the video to single Carrion Flowers.

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