"Doom-folk" is the kind of juxtaposed descriptor music journalists dream up to capture the sound of an artist whose style refuses easy classification, at least within the sort big-box genre labels used to program terrestrial radio. This micro-cataloging might capture the specificity of a particular release, but it runs the risk of trapping the artist in a box of critical design. Once the novelty of that sound is pushed out of the spotlight by the next big niche, the weight of genre expectations, slung around the neck of the originator, can make it difficult for the artist to keep pace with the fickle nature of public interest. See: witch house, chillwave, seapunk, etc.
Chelsea Wolfe is doom-folk’s most visible progenitor, and as such, she was the most likely artist to be frozen in its critical amber. Somewhat miraculously, she has been able to avoid this imprisonment, having just released her fifth—and arguably most accomplished—album. Abyss wallows in the darkness that is Wolfe’s stock and trade, but does so through the introduction of heavily electronic elements that take her firmly into the darkwave industrial territory, the kind carved out by the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Dead Can Dance. The thunderclap metal riffs and lilting folk melodies are still present—except they are now buoyed by discordant synths, and run through all manner of effects that push the gothic sludge to anthemic heights. “Carrion Flowers” rumbles out of the gate with a bottom-heavy funeral dirge that would sound perfectly at home on a Tricky album; later, “Dragged Out” piles disembodied vocal samples atop computer-aided feedback, as Wolfe’s lyrics echo inward, plumbing nightmarish depths of despair. The album’s back half tamps down on the bombast, bringing the vocals to the fore with the aid of cybernetic flourishes the help maintain the gravity of the proceedings. In lesser hands, Abyss may have collapsed under the weight of its self-seriousness. Instead, Wolfe steps into the cavernous space of her ambition and fills it with an assured collection of songs that are unsettling in their commitment to sorrow.