Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Chelsea Wolfe’s Abyss is one of the darkest records I have ever heard. The subject matter isn’t upsetting, and the music isn’t overbearing, but the sounds leave a deep, dark, unsettling feeling in the mind of the listener. 
Throughout the California singer-songwriter’s latest release, the mood is sombre and depressing, and yet Wolfe’s glimmering voice soars through the night, a siren song on an otherwise haunting soundtrack.

Throughout Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe offers listeners different snapshots of a perspective tormented by despair, frustration, and uncertainty. As is the case sonically, the lyrics provide few light moments. There may be references to love and flowers in the track listings, but inside the songs themselves, there is little room for beauty (as many of us understand it) in Wolfe’s world.

From the opening track, “Carrion Flowers”, a reference to a plant that emits the scent of rotting flesh to attract prey, to “Iron Moon”, a tribute to a Foxconn worker who killed himself, Abyss is an onslaught of heavy sounds, themes, and images that collectively paints a brutal picture.

From “Iron Moon”:

A dead sun, a pale glow

Upon the walls I feign to know

We bear no fruit, no flowers, no life

And we get sick but never die

Become an echo

Resounding ‘let go’

Throughout Abyss, songs like “Grey Days” and “Dragged Out” depict a dark and dreary world. As the lyricism on the album delves deeper, so too does the lyricism continue further and further down as it approaches “The Abyss”. While moments like the soft strum opening to “Crazy Love” provide the listener with a rare reprieve, these lighter passages rarely last long before being dragged down into the depths, as is the case on the aforementioned track as strings descend in the madness of a lover’s lament.

The high water moment on Abyss hits during “Survive”, when drums thunder behind Wolfe’s cold vocals that build into a crescendo of feedback to close the track. It is the most powerful moment on the album, and it uniquely contrasts the surrounding songs which oftentimes seem to be carried by the vicious vocals provided by Wolfe.

All-in-all, Abyss is haunting and lovely piece of music. While it is hard not to be brought down by the themes and images Wolfe conjures up, the ultimate reward is worth enduring moments that seem to leave the listener lost and alone. It’s not a piece of music I see myself listening to again and again, but I am glad I have given it a spin, and I do look forward to seeing her perform in Vancouver.

Like the album, I hope her performance is worth the week-long depression that is destined to follow.