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Chelsea Wolfe (or how to stare into the dark forever)

Andrei Cucu

I love it when you stumble upon an artist with a vision, persona and output that are so coherent that just by reading their stage name you know exactly what you are in for. It’s one of the rare cases where confirmation of your premonition is actually satisfying. While Wolfe’s scope of feelings, themes, states and ambiances may be limited, her endless power of exploiting the intricacies of darkness remains ever fascinating.

On 2010’s The Grime and the Glow, she first showed a sort of darkness found in attics, cellars and basements. While impenetrable, you still have the close-by impression of the space. Narrow, long, low ceiling’d, you somehow know how to navigate the area, but are still surprised by the endless amount of cobwebs and dirt sticking to your sweaty face. The introductory song may lead you into thinking something else, sounding like an outtake from Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes, but Wolfe quickly throws you into the deep end with the haunting Cousins of the Antichrist. A quick journey through lo-fi tinged folk and ambient music, with short, heavy intermissions hinting towards Wolfe’s love of metal, her debut album offers a great first taste of her very specific mix of genres.

Apokalypsis on the other hand, starts off heavily with violent screams turning into a driving arpeggiated beat switching affiliation from Lykke Li to another part of Sweden, namely to Opeth’s Damnation. More intricate, more menacing and more metal, Apokalypsis shows Wolfe further honing her craft, showing more precision in her songs. While still pretty sprawling genre-wise, her distinct knack for languid melodies followed lazily by the deep throbbing drums and low guitars becomes even more enticing. The darkness found in abandoned spaces of The Grime and the Glow now turns into the vast streets lit by yellow, triangular lights. With Apokalypsis Wolfe loses the deep sense of claustrophobia she showed on tracks like The Whys or Noorus from her debut.

Her collection of acoustic songs seems like a great idea, but Unknown Rooms, her development into the more folk area proved a little too poppy, and quite unremarkable. 2013’s Pain is Beauty however, showed the cinematic grandeur Wolfe is capable of. Quickly picked up as a perfect soundtrack for a trailer for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Wolfe’s fourth album further delves into metal, keeps darkness as a constant state, space and feeling, but highlights its greatness, its capacity to overwhelm. The mental space her albums throw you into become increasingly larger and emptier, until they reach mythological proportions on her latest release, Abyss.

Again, Wolfe turns up the metal as she did on Apokalypsis, but this time it’s serious. After a booming introduction with Carrion Flowers, the album flows in and out of ferocity, pausing shortly for some sleepy meditative interludes. Wolfe claims to have written the album about sleep paralysis and the haunting state of awareness one experiences while dreaming, but not having any control over your body. Yet another manifestation of darkness abounds on Abyss, Wolfe managing to deepen her virtual space on unexpected dimensions. Not as empty as Pain is Beauty or as tight as The Grime and the Glow, the abyss is not empty, it is in itself vivid and moving.  The dark is at once internalized and kept at a distance, as a separate entity, the songs calling it forward in a religious, chanting, obsessive way. It really is fascinating how many facets Wolfe finds to blending drone, ambient and metal elements while keeping the intimacy of a singer-songwriter. The guitars howl throughout the album, strings have a very sharp, cutting quality about them and Wolfe’s voice wraps everything into a slowly moving, spiraling coat of translucent scarves and mirages.

While not an immense step away from her previous work, Abyss shows how creative Wolfe is in touching the same grave subjects of dream, fear, loneliness, anxiety, mystery, etc. She remains constant in her aesthetic, her graveness and mild affectation, yet she still brings an interesting delivery and a stunningly palpable ambiance. Wolfe never steps out of the dark, but rather convincingly lures you deeper with each release.

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Andrei CucuChelsea Wolfe (or how to stare into the dark forever)

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