Hiss Spun

Hiss Spun

Chelsea Wolfe

Album Review by Jared Lynch

Hiss Spun is a personal album filled with wonderful language, whose delivery creates a woven entanglement of beautiful, fractured poetry. There are times when the lyrics become muffled into the music itself, but this production fits the composition and mood of the album. This is a heavy, yet incredibly accessible album. It hits hard while still satisfying both loud and quiet sound (and emotion), with Wolfe’s vocals perfectly balancing and complementing the rawness of the music. It’s a place full of sharp corners, sharp objects, and places to become ensnared. While largely containing elements of sludge metal, it still maintains the gothic, neofolk aspects of Wolfe’s previous music, despite missing many of the same electronic elements prevalent on her 2015 release Abyss. Hiss Spun is cohesive and consistently entangles the listener both instrumentally and lyrically.

The album offers small reprieves from the onslaught of heaviness, with which Wolfe’s voice provides a euphoric, ethereal twin to the heaviness of the music. The album was composed with Wolfe’s long-time collaborator Ben Chisholm, and features several collaborations that enhance the sound of the album. One of featured contributing artists is Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) who provided guitar to several tracks that punches the sound through the heavy walls of noise that compose the core of the thing. She is also joined by Aaron Turner (Isis), whose growl opposes her ghosted falsetto on the song “Vex." Turner helps to solidify the track at its roots somewhere in the depths of hell.

The album was produced by Converge guitarist/producer Kurt Ballou, whose influence is heard in the controlled aggressiveness of the soundscape. The singer haunts around the corner, dancing through the sharp objects buried in the sound and words of this album, which is equally heavy and moving, pulsating and progressing with its density.

Wolfe uses Hiss Spun to critically examine herself, while observing and accepting the messy entanglement of the deaths, failed relationships, ghosts, and regrets that compose her. The album opens with a mobius loop of unraveling. In “Spun,” Wolfe reels from the fallout of a disintegrated, and probably unhealthy relationship, and she’s deconstructing her sense of self coming undone. She’s encountered this before, this action of falling apart, and returning to the origin only to tear herself apart again. Wolfe flows in and away from places of pain. She changes. She accepts herself. She begins the cycle again. The track gaits forward with pounding, constant drums, almost ritualistic in their pulsating presence. The guitars on “Spun” are simultaneously gritty as they construct a wall, and punch through that wall with glistening, welted static. They accent Wolfe’s wavering, bleeding vocals. This song seems to mark the moment of someone who actualizes the loop they are caught within, and takes the effort to break out of that loop. With her fear defined, it becomes easier to break away from that loop.

The remainder of the album builds upon these themes of deconstructing and building up from the ashes. “The Culling,” which is one of the strongest songs on the album, fully embodies the opposing forces at the core of the album. Wolfe revisits a ghost, who “died too young,” whom she can only visit in her dreams. The guitar sweeps along in the background, while the drums fill in steady accumulation, reminiscent of Teethed Glory and Injury by Altar of Plagues. The chorus erupts after the culminating eerie guitar plucks a lonesome stuttering stair step atop a wall of well constructed noise. When Wolfe bellows out about the “sweet dead eyes” of her ghost, it’s harrowing and powerful. After lamenting for the lost love, she accepts that this ghost is a part of her past, and there’s no way of going back to the time when the ghost was living and breathing. This acceptance is embodied in imagery as “the flowers bloom, the sun rises.” A new dawn radiates on the horizon, albeit only briefly. The track outros with a mantra repeated later in the album: “flux, hiss, welt, groan,” which fully embodies the emotional progression of the speaker. Hiss captures the sound of the album, in addition to the feelings of emotional entanglement experienced by Wolfe. Flux brings about the shift and the constant change between experiencing a strong emotional center in life, and feeling the welts and groans that it leaves you with before moving along through the hiss to the next.

Later in the album, “Welt” ethereally evokes the same mantra of “flux, hiss, welt, groan” that marked the outro of “The Culling,” effectively tying the end of the album to the established themes of pain, retrograde progression, learning, making the same mistakes, and pulling back into the flux of wholly accepting oneself. It offers a spooky, haunted dirge of piano, which is effectively captured as “a flux of terrain we’ve been on before” discussed in the aptly named “Particle Flux.” Immediately following this, “Two Spirit” is incredibly powerful in its quietness. It begins with Wolfe singing in a fitting falsetto, joined only by an acoustic guitar, while melancholy swells slowly build in the back. This minimal, gothic ballad eventually contorts back the heaviness found within the rest of the album, but still maintains its quiet power. The lyrics fluxuates between two different speakers, one who is living, and one who is “buried under flowers.” This latter speaker feels as though she is the missing component that was lost in all of Wolfe’s wandering through the empty, repeated places. Wolfe asks the listener to “show me your insides/show me your bruises,” which is exactly what she has been doing through the vessel of the album. In the final track “Scrape,” it feels as though the speaker has returned to the origin point of her journey, and she is to once again fall into the “flux, hiss, welt, groan” that has composed her life thus far. The speaker challenges herself and the listener to “stop running/from the weight of existence.” The one way to progress is to define oneself, and refine oneself, but sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to do it as effectively as Wolfe has on this album.

Favorite Tracks: "Spun," "16 Psyche," "The Culling"