Review Summary: Lifting the veil.
For an album that presupposes sadness and neglect, Abyss
is surprisingly bold. Opener “Carrion Flowers” makes this very clear. Whereas 2013’s Pain Is Beauty
’s lead-in, “Feral Love”, tiptoed into the limelight, “Carrion Flowers” barges through the doors. Wolfe’s regal vocals are bolstered by crunchy guitars, warring drums, and thick, ominous synth drops. If Apokalypsis
(2011) and Pain Is Beauty
saw Wolfe hint at her melodic strength, Abyss
is her unveiling. The sound is fuller
than ever before, almost cluttered in its ambition. Though “darkwave” is a fitting descriptor, elements of doom, folk, noise, and industrial seep in. We’ve expected as much, for Chelsea has wandered between various gothic-infused styles in recent releases, but her penchant for unpredictability remains intact; she still throws us for a loop. The sound of Abyss
hits with smothering, back-pinning impact. It’s alarming, given the singer’s often-delicate execution.
The first song to balance frailty with power, “Maw” has a raw serenity similar to Joanne Robertson, with an aura that, unlike preceding tracks, truly emulates the cover art: ethereal melodies, lyrical themes of wandering, and withering beauty (it could have made an excellent closer; it sums up the album’s essence, really). Though Wolfe’s lyrics are cryptic, occasional messages eke through the fog: “I’ve been waitin’ / in the silence
[…] where are you / where are you
"” It’s not much to go off of, but it justifies the senses of abandonment and lingering. Despite it all, Chelsea has never sounded more resolute. Resilience is a pervasive theme in Abyss
, filling its dark corners. "After The Fall" is a testament to this, with words of conviction (“Nothing will keep us apart / I know that you’ll find me there / after the fall
”), and follow-up “Crazy Love” is steadfast, despite the dramatically plummeting strings that rake her back like nails. “Survive” is the most glaring example, both in title and structure; calm, passive reflections give way to high-handed drums, suggesting the tables have turned. The titular closer leaves things inconclusive, with scatterbrained violins and grating piano lines spiralling Wolfe into self-doubt.
Some criticized Pain Is Beauty
as playing to archetypal tropes and significantly easier to pin down in comparison to previous works. While Abyss
doesn’t entirely abandon this practice, the result is much more persuasive; Wolfe drowns the listener in noise, and it’s entrancing - less of a stylistic guessing game, now with a striking sound that acknowledges, and utilizes, Chelsea’s strengths, pushing her voice to the forefront of the chaos. Perhaps just as important, it exploits her weaknesses, lending to an emotional resonance rarely felt in her stoic delivery. The songstress has conveyed a sort of cool unattainability in past works; here, she doesn’t exactly bare all - not yet - but she’s less guarded in a way. Abyss
might dim the lights and bar the doors, but it leaves the windows wide open.