By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director
[Sargent House; 2017]
Key Tracks: “The Culling”, “Twin Fawn”, “Two Spirit”
Chelsea Wolfe’s transformation shifted from an initially gothic neofolk sound to a madhouse of weighty ethereal hardcore. While this change was long awaited and, frankly, not that surprising, it is Wolfe’s execution that makes Hiss Spun so hauntingly beautiful. Wolfe’s ability to seamlessly fill in the cracks between domination and absolute defeat make Hiss Spun not only a rarity, but Wolfe’s magnum opus.
The album opens with a mess of distortion and fuzz, but slowly begins to take shape as more instrumentation is introduced. Heavy bass and percussion set the scene for Wolfe to start layering vocals gently over them. It isn’t long until these frail (but not quite delicate) vocals are met with friction. This gives the album an audible representation of the relationship between who she is and who she doesn’t want to be – or rather what she doesn’t want to let consume her.
Hiss Spun’s overarching theme of personifying mental illness, or rather giving them animalistic qualities, may seem romantic at first, however Wolfe’s depiction of herself is very real. In an almost tantalizing slow dance with defeat, Wolfe’s struggle is represented perfectly through deathly screeching and polarizing synths in “16 Psyche” and “The Culling”. However, the pinnacle of defeat lies within “Two Spirit” – a track reminiscent of Emma Ruth Rundle. Surrounded by a foray of loud heavy instrumentation, the dust only settles to be kicked back up again with a final fight in “Scrape”.
In a powerhouse of dynamics, Wolfe toes the line between something melodic and something entirely daunting. “Twin Fawn”, in particular, goes back and forth between quiet intervals of solitude and back-breaking walls of emotion and intensity. The lines, “You cut me open, you lived inside / You kill the wonder, nowhere to hide” are a perfect allusion to the album’s constant push and pull between Wolfe and her embodied emotions.
Hiss Spun dangles over your head like an ominous cloud about to drop a very thick oil. With an almost breathtaking balance of contrast and a vulnerability completely ripped to shreds, Wolfe’s latest commands attention. Hiss Spun is impossible to ignore, making this album heavier than the gravity on Jupiter while wearing soaking wet clothes.