4 / 5
Abyss is, at first blush, loud and crushingly heavy. This is, of course, not new territory for Chelsea Wolfe; the L.A. singer-songwriter has claimed black metal, doom, drone, and dark ambient music as her influence since the very beginning. Compared to her last album, 2013’s Pain Is Beauty, however, it’s practically a doom metal album in its own right. A good deal of this is the presence of guitarist Mike Sullivan, whose post-metal group Russian Circles sets the standard for crushingly heavy guitar work.
The very first moments of “Carrion Flowers” make for the most oppressive sounds Chelsea Wolfe has ever engaged in, and the way her dusky voice cuts through the thickness is a moment of sheer frisson. The album cover sets the tone perfectly: the singer falling into deep water, sinking beyond breath, light, and life.
Unlike many of her influences, however, she manages to expertly balance oppressive heaviness with passages of lighter (though no less eerie) folk work. “Iron Moon” is the standard-bearer for this, shifting from the pound of sledgehammer guitars to fingerpicked strings and vocals with ease and a deftness of which a thousand grunge bands from two decades prior could only dream. “Maw” and “Crazy Love” focus more on the quieter parts, outlining a masterful interplay between acoustic instrumentation and the singer’s emotive voice. She even manages, on “Grey Days”, to incorporate programmed drums without having it sound out-of-place, or like bad Evanescence. It’s gothic-tinged rock done correctly, without angst or pandering to the over-makeup’d karaoke set.
Abyss takes Chelsea Wolfe’s music to a new, heavier level that plays up her influences while still keeping the proceedings firmly in her own camp. At times it feels as though the music is creeping out of your speakers to surround you, and smother you in darkness. Rather than go over-the-top in this, like many of her influences, she keeps her music agile, dynamic, and always interesting.