Chelsea Wolfe has been an enigmatic force hovering through the dark underground musical labyrinths for almost a decade. Steadily harnessing her fey powers and always shifting her dreamlike sound into different forms over the years, each unique and yet true to their creator.
Although known for being a very private person, Wolfe has revealed small glimpses and fragments of her history in interviews, namely in one interview conducted by Revolver in which she revealed that she grew up in a dark environment, with a family twisted in secrets and a history of struggling with sleep paralysis. However gloomy, this background gave her the advantage of early practices in maturity, observance, and introspection, which would later fuel her artistic works. Wolfe has undoubtedly been influenced by the female figures in her life, spending part of her childhood with her grandmother who taught her lessons in spirituality, as well as revealing to her the darkest secret of her lineage, which involved the destruction of the lives of almost every woman in her family. Learning this was devastating to Wolfe, but channelling the sorrow and anger into her music seems to have been almost therapeutic to her.
Chelsea Wolfe is notorious for being experimental and never settling on a single sound, constantly changing after every new album, thus making it impossible for listeners to define her. The bitter scratchings of The Grime and Glow, her first album, fit their title perfectly as the songs seemed to bite at listeners with heavily distorted instrumentals and yet also soothe with Wolfe’s echoing vocals in a whirlwind of inner frustration and romantic longings. However, her work only began gaining traction upon the release of her second album Apokalypsis, in which she had shifted into a more rustic and clear sound. Seemingly still in love with this clarity, she released an acoustic album titled Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. Then, taking a sudden turn again, she released Pain is Beauty, which saw a new experimentation in electronic elements into her already complex sound. Following is Abyss, which sounded distinctly heavier and more manufactured than any of her prior works, presenting listeners with a new power and intensity, although her lyrics were still romantic and longing in contrast.
And finally, there was Hiss Spun, released in September of 2017; even more instrumentally intense than Abyss had been, but now with the lyrics and visuals to match. Listeners could feel a change in Wolfe, different to her previous shifts. Now there are a new confidence, a new ferocity, and a new determination to delve into herself and untangle the dense thickets of her thoughts, history, and addictions; the process of which she likened to a ‘personal exorcism’ in an interview with Noisey. The album booms with powerful instrumentals that seem to move and flow like magma; slow but relentless. Meanwhile, Wolfe’s crooning, howling voice is present throughout, sometimes gently accompanying the instrumentals, and other times battling to pierce through the noise, synonymous with her relationship with her own mind.
Lyrically, Wolfe enjoys keeping her writings cryptic, as to keep the details of her personal life in the shadows. Yet, she has shown that explicit details are not needed to carry the emotional intensity of her stories. Tracks like “Spun” and “Vex” tell of her twisting and turning in restlessness as she battles to break an unnamed addiction with lines like “You leave me reckless / You leave me sick / I destroy myself / And then I want it again” and “I swore off obsidian thoughts / And lay awake on broken glass” while also gaining a new perspective as she reflects on her struggle in the lines “Cut through the fear conditioning / To finally understand / It was all and everything or nothing”
“16 Psyche” on the other hand details the strong desire for escapism in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. The grumbling guitars that mix with Wolfe’s aching voice makes for a very emotive song, relaying feelings of desperation and helplessness in the lines “I feel it crawl up my legs / Let me wrap you up in these thighs / It gets me out of my head again” and “I can’t / She said / I’d save you but the world’s bent”
Other songs like “The Culling” and “Particle Flux” seem to follow the timeline of a love which must inevitably self-destruct; structured to be gentle and vocally intricate at the start with lines like “Here, time is endless / The voices I love call me home / Who knows for all distance? / What fuses me into you, now?”, until Wolfe suddenly drops into a bombardment of instrumental noise and regresses her lyrical complexity to the repetition of one lyric which serves as the singularity for her obsession; “Sweet dead eyes / I long to hear you again.” “Static Hum” feels more sporadic, with periods of quiet humming and chaotic noise joined together to portray a sense of instability, denoting perhaps the times when Wolfe felt defeated and ready to give up; the “glitch of a woman self-destructing.”
Lastly, there is the familial secret which Wolfe had struggled to process for over a decade. Containing the most jagged and painful lyrics by far are the songs in which she explores this aspect of her thoughts, one of which is the last song on the album and leaves listeners with a painful silence, such that they too can process the severity of her burden. The anger in “Twin Fawn” feels directed more to the pain of her knowing what happened than it is towards what actually happened. In the chorus, she howls “I held you sober, white smoke and low life / A big pill to swallow, a mountain to climb.” Meanwhile, in “Scrape”, the last song, she transforms her fury and places herself in the minds of the women who came before her in her family, and who had been destroyed by their secret. The lines “You carrier / You’ll never see / What came undone / What you took from me” seem to float out of her lungs distraught at the irreversible state of what happened, yet near the end there is determination to move on despite the damage that has been done as seen in the lines “Holy odium / Blotted memory / But my regret will never consume me.” Although the pain in her family cannot be expelled, Wolfe will not allow herself to be destroyed by it; instead, she moves on to create and inspire.
Overall, Hiss Spun is an insightful glimpse into the brilliant mind of Chelsea Wolfe. The complexity and wide variety of lyrics and song structures that Wolfe has carefully woven together beautifully reflect the similar complexity of her heart and mind. She has unabashedly delved into the darkest parts of herself and dissected them, resurfacing with a newfound courage to rise above her pain and shed her old shell in favor of growing into a stronger version of herself; one who is not afraid claw over mountains and fall into the new realities that lie on the other end. Her spirit has transformed once again, as it always will, this time feeling like a soft rain at dawn after a night of endless storms; the sun hasn’t come yet, but it will.