by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
Chelsea Wolfe’s album covers have always represented the album they accompany well. Hiss Spun finds Wolfe backed into a corner, squatting in a feral pose. She’s retreating but ready to strike. There’s a potential of lashing out at any moment. Only her eye can be seen. She is the only thing in the frame. She’s not in here with you, you’re in here with her, and you’re about to get all you can handle.
From the beginning, Hiss Spun states its case for being an explosive listening experience. There is a cohesion to it, the sound of turning inward, winding tighter and tighter until the pressure gets too dense, and the emotions explode outward. It is an album that deals with the fallout of secrets kept for far too long, wounds that are never allowed to heal, and the darkness too often found behind the picturesque quaintness of our neighborhood homes. It’s not what anyone would call easy listening, but it’s a beautiful listening experience. Wolfe never sacrifices melody for loud. From start to finish there is no give. It’s an album that wants you to hear what it has to say but only if you play by its rules.
“Spun” lumbers in like elephants breaching the front line, plodding and thundering along. It keeps its gait for the whole song while Wolfe sings “you leave me reckless, you leave me sick, I destroy myself and then I want it again.” One of the main themes running through the album seems to be the topic of duality. That which is seen and that which is not. The lie that’s out in the open and the truth being kept back. “Vex” showcases this, all agitated angst as Wolfe sings with guest Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, et al) coming in to provide a round from Hell, giving voice to the rage inside. “Twin Fawn” expands on this theme. It’s a track that feels like it’s haunted by a presence, an “anonymous loss.” It starts off sparse and slow, Wolfe’s voice in a forced whisper, her guitar chiming in while brushes play lightly on the toms. But then the song opens up like a crack in reality as she sings “you cut me open, you lived inside, you kill the wonder, nowhere to hide” while the music comes roaring out like a poltergeist, wreaking havoc on anything in its way until the emotion is spent and it retreats back into itself only to repeat the build up, ready to lash out once again.
“The Culling” feels like the album’s thesis statement with its talk of family secrets, the cult of anonymity, and wounds that can’t be left alone. It ends with the words “flux, hiss, welt, groan” like the album’s Rosetta Stone. Words found along the titles of the songs and in the lyrics themselves like in the song “Static Hum,” which gives it a skeleton key vibe. “She wears her horrors like a welt, a glitch of a woman self-destructing” Wolfe sings. The music is all throb and wail. It all ends with “Scrape” and its industrial tinged fury. The hiss infecting everything as Wolfe lashes out “I don’t need your help, or your hindrance, you stay the fuck away from me!”
Bridging the gap between pain and release, Chelsea Wolfe has released the best album of her career. It’s one that builds on the already impressive albums she has done and showcases her ability to render beauty out of the ugliness of human interaction. It’s also her heaviest album to date. It’s a dense, urgent listening experience that threatens to overwhelm you, wanting to give you more than you are ready to handle. Its best to not fight it and to let it roll you under its turbulent seas.