Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Chelsea Wolfe - AbyssWolfe remarks that Abyss is designed to generate the sensation of waking from a dream, ever so briefly, before falling back to sleep and returning to it. The dream world attains the same object permanence as the corporeal one. When the dream can continue to exist in my absence, what proof is there left that it exists as a figment of my mind rather than an external reality in itself? This is the sound of Abyss: nightmares billowing through my world of consciousness like ink into a glass of water, with supernatural voices and surreal ambient light spilling into the sonically visceral equivalent to rock, industry and concrete. Strange hallucinations drape over the shapes of doom and sludge as a translucent veil, and I quickly lose the ability to tell them apart.

This isn’t about alternating between light and dark, although I momentarily trick myself into thinking I can identify when one is more prominent than the other. During the opening moments of “Maw” – clean guitar twisting gently like restless slumber, string drones swaying like haunted drapes, Wolfe’s voice spilling out as intimate half-whisper – I feels as though I sense sleep more readily than consciousness. The sound is fluid and soft; a globule of lullaby in anti-gravity. The drum loop of “Grey Days” rolls and thumps (BANG BANG, babadum, BANG) between cello arpeggiation and wayward guitar spray, and Wolfe’s singing cracks like dry rock as she wails. Surely these elements sprout out of the earth upon which I stand?

It’s never that simple. Light and dark meld into symbiotic shades, writhing over eachother in feud and in love. The simple melody of “Crazy Love” becomes sodden under a shower of glissando phantoms, and romantic confession promptly turns terrifying. The distorted chords of “Iron Moon” resemble a rock face ripping in two, yet harmonics glimmer within like light striking amethyst. Hostility runs through acoustic guitars and strings. Wolfe’s voice pours velvet over the most jagged and dissonant protrusions. “Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll find the answer, or if I’ve ever asked the question,” Wolfe utters during “Simple Death”, curling herself into a loop of paradox and confusion. Categorical edges melt; mood and atmosphere spiral into a whirlpool. When I emerge from Abyss I don’t know what to think, and it lingers within me like a sickness and a profound happiness.