The Best Albums of 2015, #16

band0116. Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss (Sargent House)

If you’re familiar with Chelsea Wolfe’s music, you know she had a metal album in her all along. It was only a matter of time, considering her dark folk/indie rock has always flamboyantly embraced the darker reaches of music, often displaying thematic similarities to gothic rock and black metal. Plus she’s toured with heavy bands and notoriously covered Burzum early on in her career. But although that she finally turns up the distortion on her fifth album is hardly a surprise, what’s so interesting about Abyss is how it uses doom and gothic metal to enhance her compositions rather than overwhelm them. Like Alcest, like Myrkur, like Liturgy, Wolfe does not make metal the focal point. Which, of course, can annoy many metal fans because for decades metal has been an “either you’re in or you’re out” form of music. To “dabble” in metal, to use it as a tool alongside many others in the box, if not verboten, is mild blasphemy. However, while heavy metal  in its “purest” form remains set in its ways like the blues, the real progress in the 2010s is coming from artists who use metal as a springboard toward something altogether unique and visionary. In Wolfe’s case, on Abyss she and producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Baroness) create a lavish sonic backdrop in which metal, electronic, goth, folk, dark ambient, and post-rock create a sound that, when you delve deeply, is slyly original. For all the window dressing it all comes down to Wolfe’s ethereal, enigmatic voice. She writes beautifully poetic lyrics, but is also a showman herself, her carefully honed persona keeping the listener at an arm’s length, and that air of mystery she retains throughout the album keeps you wanting to inch closer to, or perhaps into the music. Her melodies are rarely if ever insistent – “Iron Moon”, dark and doomy as it is, is one of the most immediately catchy songs she’s ever written – but that singing offers such a unique perspective to something as extreme as heavy metal that the contrast between the two sides is extraordinary to hear. It gets to the point where you have to admit, much to the chagrin of a lot of cranky metalheads out there, that Abyss features the most creative use of vocal melody in heavy metal since Pallbearer. After an extended period of experimentation, Chelsea Wolfe has found her best musical fit to date. (Spotify) (YouTube)