Dick Clark used to famously claim that music is the soundtrack of our lives. As simple as that statement is, there has likely never been a better descriptor for the sheer power of music. Its ability to change and transform a persons perspective is second to none. Music has the ability to transport the listener to another time and place all together, whether it be an introspective journey, or a deeper understanding of the musician behind the album you’re currently obsessing over.
Chelsea Wolfe‘s latest offering, the appropriately titled Abyss is a harrowing journey inspired by Wolfe’s struggle with sleep paralysis, a condition where upon waking up, a person is unable to move or speak suspending them in a dream-like haze, not quite conscious yet still aware of what’s occurring. Undoubtedly, it’s as terrifying as it sounds, and Wolfe has conjured up an album suitable for such an event. While Abyss may have been inspired by Wolfe’s real life affliction, it’s in no way a concept album or even necessarily biographical. Instead, the record (like much of Wolfe’s back catalog) focuses on all things dark, shining a light in the dark, long-abandoned recesses of the mind, the result being Wolfe’s most intense offering to date.
The proto-industrial dirge of album opener “Carrion Flowers” immediately sets the tone for Abyss and sees the versatile Wolfe broaden her sonic palate to new horizons. A crunching, distorted synth line provides the backbone for Wolfe’s ethereal vocals, becoming damn near hypnotic in it’s precision. The song beckons and invites you in before exploding in a maelstrom of thundering distortion and throbbing percussion. It’s one of the most beautiful yet haunting songs in recent memory, begging to be listened to over and over again just in case you missed any of its subtle nuances the first time around, and it’s a side of Wolfe that hasn’t been heard up until now.
Wolfe’s new found proclivity for experimentation permeates nearly every song throughout Abyss, which isn’t to say that her previous albums didn’t feature some sublime moments, but nearly every track on Abyss will have you doing a double-take, wondering if you did indeed hear what you thought you did. Likely the most straight-ahead offering to be found on Abyss is the powerful “Iron Moon” which stuns with its sudden shifts in dynamics, causing the listener to truly experience and feel every last distorted note in their bones, a sensation that fans of Wolfe’s music will already be familiar with. But the song also acts as an anchor for the rest of Abyss, providing a comfortable place of respite for the bleak sonic territory that lay ahead, such as the nightmarish and doom-drenched “Dragged Out” or the electronic slow-burn of “Color of Blood.”
Elsewhere, the acoustic string-soaked semi-ballad “Crazy Love” is a mournful reflection of yearning. Chelsea’s soaring vocals provide all the resolution you need, even if you can’t shake the feeling that everything is not alright when the song winds to a close. That same uneasiness returns on “Survive,” quietly slinking along, soaking in whimsical atmospherics for the better part of the song before slowly building and exploding in a Swans-like hurricane of cathartic distortion before abruptly ending, again leaving you picking your jaw up off the floor in astonishment to what just occurred.
Abyss is an absolutely stunning record. It’s the type of album that only comes around every now and again, with songs that threaten to change the way you perceive and live your life. With Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe has created the soundtrack for the darkest corners of your psyche. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable journey, but a supremely rewarding one if you choose to embrace it with an open mind and heart. After all, you can’t appreciate all of the light that life has to offer until you’ve explored and come face to face with the darkness.