Chelsea Wolfe hasn’t gone full on metal on Hiss Spun but the heavy influences on 2015’s Abyss are up front and center on her sixth full-length album. Songs like “The Culling” and “Static Hum” are driven by pounding industrial riffs and rhythms reminiscent of mid-era Swans threaten to crush everything in their path. Even the rare folk moments fall into this aesthetic, as “Two Spirit” sounds like something Jarboe could’ve come up with.
The musicians do an excellent job. While the shift in heaviness could be attributed to the inclusion of Queens of the Stone Age/A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, longtime colaborator Ben Chisholm remains the most dominant player as his bass is responsible for much of the grime, while his synths and soundscapes provide a haunting aura throughout. It also helps that the drums are quite aggressive and that master producer Kurt Ballou keeps everything organic.
With all this sludge abound, it’s interesting to note that Wolfe still presents herself as vulnerably as ever. Her vocals retain an ethereal quality throughout caked in gorgeous shoegaze-style layering and never drifting above a distant wail regardless of tempo shifts. It is somewhat one dimensional and frequently results in her nearly getting drowned out by the rest of the band, but her intense emotion allows her to rise above and maintain a steady presence. In a way, it lives up to the idea of the voice as an instrument as Wolfe defines the album’s character without overwhelming it.
Overall, Hiss Spun shows Chelsea Wolfe evolving logically while still retaining her eclectic palette. The album’s incorporation of industrial, metal, folk and more never feels like the faceless chimera sometimes seen with such fusions. The songwriting allows varied songs to be united by a dark mood and strengthened by the musicians’ chemistry. It’s hyperbolic to think of Chelsea Wolfe as a queen of the underground, but now is the time to jump on the hype train if you weren’t already on it.
Hiss Spun is now available via Sargent House Records.