Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2017-09-22

I can’t stop listening to this album. By rights, I shouldn’t even like it. I’m the furthest from a Metal fan. In addition, a lot of that Marilyn Manson “Goth” crap just makes my eyes roll. Bad, pretentious, Alice Cooper without the sense of humor. But this isn’t a Metal record. And Chelsea Wolfe isn’t exactly sulking around in Marilyn Manson’s shadow any more than Alice Cooper’s. She’s her own rare breed.

If a group of white walkers from Game of Thrones got together and formed a band, it might just sound like, Hiss Spun. Chelsea Wolfe, their undisputed queen and front woman. This isn’t the first time she’s dipped her toe in cold, dank pools of Black Metal. The results here are as compelling as any siren beckoning from the jagged rocks. Forgive any Tolkien references but sonically, this is the stuff of Elfin nightmares and Hobgoblin dreams. Just in time for Halloween. Here, she rips the Gothic crown from Marilyn Manson’s severed head and tosses both to the wayside as she saunters over to claim the Ice Queen’s throne. Her Teutonic knights, kneeling in obeisance.    

Metal has traditionally been a boy’s club but here, Wolfe storms and takes the castle. Grabbing what she needs before committing it to the flames. Making it all her own. Pulling the rug out from under the genre and taking the listener on an eerie, magic carpet ride. Despite any Metal tendencies, I hear more My Bloody Valentine than Metallica or Black Sabbath. Not to mention lethal doses of Swans. Particularly, the 90’s era line up with, Jarboe. At other times, Wolfe's vocals summon an otherworldly Debbie Harry at her most ‘Heart Of Glass’. Mix that with demonically distorted guitars and you have a winning recipe for bewitchment.

The first track finds Wolfe riding slowly towards you on the sonic equivalent of an Apocalyptic, pale white horse. One that could break into a full gallop at any moment. Truly, a spell has been ‘Spun’ and you are powerless to resist. The song ends with a whispering of arcane, possibly not-so-sweet-nothings in your ear.

If Aleister Crowley threw a house party in Bedlam, it might sound like ’16 Psyche’. On ‘Vex’ we get some deep-throated Speed Metal growling courtesy of Aaron Turner (of Isis and Old Man Gloom). Personally, when I hear this kind of thing, I have to suppress a chuckle. Its so steeped in cliché, it verges on self-parody. In terms of the scope of the album however, it’s such a small dose, it certainly doesn’t spoil the broth simmering in this cauldron.

‘The Culling’ by contrast, strips things down to the bone. Wolfe coming across like a more-doomy, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. I’m quite a fan of Sandoval’s so I certainly don’t mind the nod in this direction. From here on out, ‘The Culling’ sets the tone for the rest of the album. Yet, for all its self-consciously Gothic trappings, there’s something that keeps it all from slipping into banality. And that’s the conviction in Chelsea Wolfe’s vocals. Aided and abetted by her inescapable penchant for melody. Of which ‘Particle Flux’ is a shining example. A Sci-Fi fever dream if I ever heard one. One of Hiss Spun’s most alluring moments. The ghostly, ‘Twin Fawn’ continues in this vein. 

‘Offering’ finds Wolfe flirting more with Dream Pop than Metal. The slow burning, ‘Static Hum’ can’t help but bring some darker sister of Bjork to mind. The flickeringly brief, ‘Well’ could easily serve as the soundtrack to a sequel of The Ring or some slick Satanic Horror flick. In fact, most of these songs are soundtrack friendly. Granted, it doesn’t sound like a conscious move on Wolfe’s part, but a consequence of the atmospherics she employs on eerie tracks like, ‘Two Spirit’. ‘Scraps’ end the record on an unsettling, restless note.

If one shallowly reduces this album to background noise, there’s a case to be made for it all sounding the same. However, one could say the same for Nick Drake’s Pink Moon or Tom Waits’ Closing Time. This is undeniably an album that deliberately seeks to evoke a particular mood. Hiss Spun offers a twilight world for the listener to explore and get lost in. Wolfe spinning a web of various influences and luring you in for the kill. Her music is consistently smart, mysterious and sexy. Sexy in that this is the sound of an artist wielding the elements around her with mastery. Creating a sound that is always stirring yet, never sentimental. Given what’s on offer in today’s risible Pop market, be thankful Chelsea Wolfe’s out there. If the vapid likes of today’s Pop Diva’s are the poison, here’s the antidote.

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