Chelsea Wolfe is very much unlike any of her contemporary indie singer-songwriters. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Black and Doom Metal, and having a real affinity for the dark, she dares to dabble in areas that not many artists in today’s musical landscape would dare. Therefore, there’s much more than the average “doom and gloom” to Wolfe’s haunting soundscapes and blurred vocals; this being most evident on her latest effort, Abyss.
Rewind just five years earlier, Chelsea Wolfe introduced herself and her unique songwriting approaches and dark folk-meets-neo-psychedelia her debut album, 2010’s The Grime and the Glow. However, it wasn’t until her follow-up, 2011’s Apokalypsis, that her droning Goth Rock style began to take shape. She went even further with 2013’s Pain is Beauty, incorporating more synthesizers and electronic textures.
Fans of Goth, Shoegaze, Doom and Black Metal alike began to take notice, although the signature heavy/distorted guitars of said styles were either not present, or set somewhere in the background.
This is certainly not the case for Abyss, Wolfe’s noisiest and heaviest effort yet. Inspired by her own experience with sleep paralysis, the album is truly the soundtrack to a 3 a.m. nightmare. Opening track, “Carrion Flowers,” sets the tone with a terrifying Post-Industrial wall of synth noise that’s enough to give Trent Reznor or Nivek Ogre nightmares! From there, the volume hits 11 with the guitar-heavy “Iron Moon” and “Dragged Out.” The opening trio of songs set the tone for what’s to come, while successfully catching the ears of new and old fans, as it’s not exactly what one might expect from Chelsea Wolfe… until now!
Chelsea Wolfe. Photo courtesy of Instagram.
From there, the piano driven “Maw” changes the pace sonically, while only descending deeper into Wolfe’s terrifying trip. Tracks like “Grey Days” and “After the Fall” showcase Wolfe’s lyrical ability, creating moods and emotions not unlike a painter’s brush on a canvas. “Crazy Love” and “Survive” nod to earlier material with a Goth-Folk vibe, with “Simple Death” and “Color of Blood” let ambiance take the lead. Finally, the droning “Abyss” closes the record with an eerie detuned piano and haunting string session, placing the listener into Wolfe’s mental state following the series of night terrors.
Don’t let the over-bearing darkness fool you, Abyss is equally beautiful as it is haunting. Chelsea Wolfe has a real raw emotive power to her voice, much in the way of PJ Harvey. She could bring a room to tears, or perfectly erupt into the noise of her band at any given moment, while barely raising her voice. This album is the sound of Chelsea Wolfe in prime, both as a songwriter and an artist who is continually challenging herself, yet successfully remaining true to her roots.
All in all, Abyss is Wolfe’s best work yet. This is a true testament to artistic progress. Standout tracks include “Carrion Flowers,” “Dragged Out,” After the Fall,” “Survive” and “Abyss.” This album is great for new fans. Those who appreciate the work of Curve, Om, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Swans or early Nine Inch Nails and PJ Harvey should find instant appeal.
Chelsea Wolfe will kick off a North American tour alongside Wovenhand on Aug. 27 in Las Vegas. Abyss is out Aug. 7 via Sargent House Records.
Cvtvnmvvth performing at Cedars in Youngstown, OH. Left to right: Sam Bowlin, Kenny Halbert and Eric Thrap.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
It’s been quite a busy 12 months for Youngstown-based Doom Metal juggernauts, Cvttcnmvvth. Following the release of their debut EP, Toughsnake, in 2013, the band have been hard at work solidifying their lineup and making a splash on the local scene. With explosive performances across the area alongside top-notch acts like Album and Resinaut, as well as a handful of high-profile performances lined up, Cvttvnmvvth have firmly established themselves as the must-see ticket in the area in 2015.
The Raw Alternative recently spoke to the band’s founding members, guitarist Sam (Javier) Bowlin and drummer Kenny Halbert to discuss a number of topics including the band’s creative influences, their thoughts on the local scene, dividing their time between side-project Wild Wings and their upcoming performance opening for Columbus, Ohio Sludge legends Lo-Pan on Jan. 17.
Give us a brief history of the band from it’s formation up to now. Have you been involved with any past projects or worked with anyone previously which led to Cvttvnmvvth? How did the current lineup come together?
Sam: Kenny and I had originally began our musical collaboration when we met in high school, some 20-plus years ago. Ken had rented a practice space out in the middle of a crumbling junkyard on the outskirts of New Springfield, (Ohio) and it was there that we started version 1.0 of Cvttvnmvvth (then spelled Cottonmouth, without all the V’s, those came later). We strived to create unpleasant, virulent music that reflected our grim surroundings. Things eventually fell apart, as things often do, and after high school we went our separate ways for nearly two decades; I headed out east, while Kenny continued his adventures, musical and otherwise, between here and the west coast. I moved back to Youngstown in 2012 and reconnected with my old friend. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves in a new musical collaboration, the band Railings. Things ran their course with that act, and with some downtime on our hands we had the urge to resurrect our first band, a new version where Ken switched from bass to drums, but with all of the original intentions in place: To create something ugly. We recorded our debut, Toughsnake, in mid 2013. We tried a few select heads out on bass before Eric Tharp joined up with us in early 2014.
You made a pretty big splash on the scene last year. What are your plans for 2015?
Sam: We plan on recording material for our follow-up, working title Total Possession (Soundtrack to the Blackest of Masses), but Kenny’s not crazy about parentheses in album titles, so we’ll see how that one flies. Also, we will play cool shows and weird out squares.
Kenny: What do you think about the title? When you set a precedent like that it brings a lot of crazies out of the woodwork…plus, with the clandestine nature of these affairs, it’s hard to know for sure if it’s really the “blackest.” Someone will have to come up with a Scoville Unit-type ranking system, or something.
What’s your take on the current local scene right now? What do you like most about it? How can it improve?
Sam: I see both good and bad in the local scene. There’s a seeming trend of “acoustic” nights, which doesn’t do much for me personally, but it must be popular because you get so much of it around here. I like a bit of a spectacle if I’m going to see a band, I want something loud and different and if it can catch me off my guard then I’m into it. If I wanted to be bored and content I’d sit at home watching Criminal Minds reruns. If I know I’m going to have my mind blown, I’m much more likely to leave the house.
Kenny: It’s reflective of itself. If people start more relevant bands, there will be a scene with more bands that are relevant. If people want to go to art shows they can go support those things, and then there will be a boon there. Organic food stuff trading will be on the rise.
How can fans, and other musicians perhaps, benefit from getting out and diving into the local scene?
Sam: Well, it’s certainly something to do in a city where you don’t always have a ton of options for entertainment that doesn’t involve something illegal or immoral. Sometimes seeing a terrible band can be just a fulfilling as seeing one that rages, depending on your mood. Apathy tends to be the general consensus about town, which pairs well with the blight and despair, and while you might not have the ability to make someone care, at the very least you can try and make them uncomfortable.
Kenny: While watching a band, if you’re thinking, “This band is shit,” start a band. It might sound like a pile of shit, but it will be yours.
What’s your opinion of the current state of the music industry? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to reach a mass audience? Are tactics like U2 giving away their entire album for free a good thing, or a sign of the end of old business model? How do you distribute your music?
Sam: There might as well not even be a music industry. There’s no money in putting out challenging or innovative music on a grand scale like it may have been in days past. Everything is subject to entropy, and when dinosaurs like U2 attempt such marketing schemes, one realizes the whole business model is dead on the table. Bono can afford to give his work away for free because he’s already made millions from the machine. It’s become a prerequisite that one distributes music in some digital format; there’s no escaping it. But it sure helps to get your work out there to a growing populace who may not own a CD player or tape deck or turntable.
Kenny: The music industry is a pile of shit. And Bono got paid for that. So did Thom Yorke. And don’t get me started on this new $1,000 Neil Young Walkman—what shit. We distribute at shows, online, and through physical distributors.
There seems to be a strong resurgence in the Doom/Stoner/Sludge scene. How does Cvttvnmvvth fit into that? What sets you apart?
Sam: Doom Metal has always seemed to work in odd cycles of obscurity and relevance. It’s a genre I have been a fan of since childhood, whether it was coveting my older brother’s Black Sabbath records, or going out and discovering bands like Saint Vitus and Candlemass as a teenager. For me, the best doom has a deep emotional resonance, which I hope translates in Cvttvnmvvth, whether it be abject desolation or world-weary pessimism. What sets us apart, I think, is approaching the material with a wider palate of ideas and approximations in regards to sounding the way we want, rather than a pastiche of our influences, which is hardly interesting.
Kenny: I don’t necessarily agree. It’s always around. If there was a recent peak, the peak happened a while back when Josh Homme was hanging out with Anthony Bourdain, nationally anyway. Metal itself is always there, but the various sub-genre flavors that are in vogue at the time change. But if any bands are into tube amplification and fuzz and a “give ‘em hell” attitude, we can fit in. No wimps. What sets us aside is that we have never set out to sound like _____________, nor set any rules governing the shaping of our sound. Although it should be noted Javier would probably play every song solo on the organ if left to his own devices. We try to encourage him away from “the Devil’s Showtunes”.
Songs like “Hideous Witness,” although heavy, seem to maintain a strange balance between Goth and psychedelic rock. Elaborate on your sound as much as you can (or are willing to). Why do you think it is important to show diversity and stand out?
Sam: Gothic and psychedelic music are a definite influence on our work, almost as much as punk or metal in the mix. I like thick, lumbering sounds; anything that comes across as suffocating or oppressive pleases me. At the end of the day, standing out or seeming diverse isn’t as important as it is to tweak some sort of emotional reaction out of the listener, even if its discomfort or disgust.
Kenny: The “psychedelic” part must come from Stoner Rock. The “Goth” part comes to Javier late at night after teasing his hair, while drinking iced tea and playing Bananagrams by the glow of a space heater.
What kinds of artists are you listening to currently? Have they or will they influence your sound? Any influences that fans may not expect?
Sam: I listen to a lot of older metal, stuff like Hellhammer, Bathory, and Beherit, 70’s hard rock, a lot of contemporary black metal; I’m pretty obsessive over certain region and era specific styles and genres of metal, but I fancy quite a bit of the 80’s gothic and post-punk racket as well. I think everything one likes ends up an influence, whether or not the influence is immediately apparent.
Kenny: Mainliner, Rakta, Coneheads, EYEHATEGOD, Greenleaf, Horn Of The Rhino. Absolutely. I love Steely Dan.
You have a pretty high-profile gig with Lo-Pan coming up; are you guys excited to be opening for them? Do you think having them perform in Youngstown is good for the local scene?
Sam: We are very delighted to be opening for Lo-Pan. It’s a great opportunity to expose our work to music fans who may have not had the pleasure to see our live show or hear our music before. I left Ohio in the mid-90’s so I missed the halcyon days of the Nyabinghi when heavier bands made Youngstown a regular stop on their touring circuits, but if the stories are to be believed, there are people who reside in our fair city who enjoy aggressive music but might not be aware that there are still bands who play in that style. We’ll see how the 17th goes. At the very minimum, we’ll have a good time and get to watch those guys devastate.
Kenny: Yes, I hope people come to the show. If not, that can become a bummer, and then what’s the point? A lot of those “glory dayz” memories people have about Nya, Cedar’s, Penguin Pub, etc., were often shows attended by eight people. The numbers in attendance swell as time passes. But that’s all gone now, so why not come out now and make some fantastic memories you can embellish later? And create something new instead of trying to become what things were. And you’ll be able to say you saw us “back in the day” when we were young; like, in our 30’s.
What’s in store for future recordings/releases? How can fans get a hold of your music?
Sam: We plan on doing some recording at some point this year. Ken and I split our time between Cvttvnmvvth and our other band, Wild Wings, so amidst playing out with both bands we’ll eventually get some work done in the Animal Dojo and have something new to offer before the year’s over. Expect more songs about sex and death. We have work by both bands available on our website www.lionscarerecordings.com as well as our Bandcamp page, cvttvnmvvth.bandcamp.com.
Many of the down-tuned, guttural vocal bands that dominated the scene of the late 90’s, owe their entire career, and then some, to Godflesh. The pioneering industrial metal act, led by mastermind guitarist and vocalist, Justin Broadrick, burst onto the scene in around 1990, just as the industrial sound as it came to be was reaching it’s creative peak. Whereas acts like Ministry and KMFDM where fusing sampled drum loops with thrash metal guitar riffs, Godflesh choose a similar path, only using slowed down, low-tuned doom and sludge metal style riffs.
Their innovative style, an entire song or a good portion of a song revolving around a repeating heavy riffs and mechanical grove, proved to be a huge influence on nu metal acts like KoRn and Coal Chamber several years later. With successful albums such as Streetcleaner, Pure, and Songs of Love and Hate, Godflesh also helped push future industrial acts like Fear Factory and Static-X in a more metal-dominated direction.
After retiring Godflesh for nearly a decade and striking out with the more indie/shoegaze project Jesu, Broadrick resurrected the band four years ago and now returns with a new EP.
Decline and Fall is the Godflesh fans have been yearning for. It represents a refreshed, mature and even more angry unit, with the energy and passion of a new act on their debut release. The EP kicks off with the single “Ringer,” a slamming industrial-sludge grinder that boldly sets the tone. From there, the ferocious “Dogbite” and the droningly melodic “Playing with Fire” return Godflesh to their heyday, but with an even darker and heavier take. Finally, the closing track, “Decline and Fall,” shows Broadrick and bassist G.C. Green hitting a creative high.
The best thing about Decline and Fall is that it sounds like an industrial metal from the genre’s heyday without feeling dated. Perhaps Godflesh was always a few steps ahead of their time, and only to be imitated, and in some cases ripped off, by acts who would achieve far more mainstream success. Still, if anything, Decline and Fall boldly proves that Godflesh are, and always have been innovators and originators.
The only flaw is that the EP ends abruptly. It rises, nearly climaxes, but drops. However, despite the tease of an EP, a full-length is scheduled for the Fall of this year. In the meantime, fans from back in the day, as well as fans of industrial and the growing sludge and doom scenes will appreciate Decline and Fall, as it is truly a return to their gloomy glory!
It’s been 12 long years since the world got their last taste of Florida-based Sludge act, Floor. The band stunned the underground metal and alternative community with their 2002 self-titled debut, only to disband two years later. Although the album and band were a little-known gem of that scene at the time, the years have been kind to Floor as word-of-mouth has garnered a strong cult following. This year, they return with their follow-up, Oblation.
Oblation picks up right were the band left off in 2004, offering an array of slamming down-tuned riffs and juxtaposed with soaring harmonious vocals. Unlike many others in the underground realm, Floor manage to maintain a balance of slamming guttural sludge metal with an almost knack for pop hooks strewn throughout.
Kicking off with the menacing title track, Oblation is ripping from the start. Tracks like “Rocinate,” “The Key” and “Love Comes Crushing” find a unique balance of dark brooding tones while remaining upbeat. Other cuts like “The Quill,” “War Party” and “Sign of Aeth” are almost more characteristic of Sludge metal, sounding somewhat along the lines of Jucifer.
Despite the overwhelming heaviness of Oblation, there is much more than meets the eye, or perhaps ear, to Floor’s music. There is an aesthetic more in tune with punk and alternative, as Floor often put their metal credibility on the line on Oblation, channeling something deeper. The heaviness is more about a feel, a mood, rather than a style. In some cases, the album may appeal more to fans of punk (and unfortunately hipsters) than fans of modern metal.
Oblation sounds as a natural progression for a band who may have left before the party got started. With a resurgence of Sludge/Doom/Stoner metal swarming through the underground, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for Floor to make a hopefully permanent comeback.
Every so often, you hear a band or artist that catches your ear in a way unlike any other before it. Connecticut-based noise/doomgaze duo Have A Nice Life have a knack for an effect. For some, it’s not even music in a traditional sense, but just brash noise. Yet for others including the band’s devoted cult following, it’s literally out of this world.
Have A Nice Life first gave the world a heavy dose of noise pollution with their now iconic 2008 debut, Deathconsciousness. Released via Flenser Records, the duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, their debut resonated among fans of various underground sub-genres including shoegaze, noise rock and drone. Eventually being dubbed doomgaze, Have A Nice Life’s unique brand of droning ethereal atmospherics and semi-industrial doom-inspired fuzzed-out instrumentation helped spark interest of a shoegaze revival across the underground.
Although Have A Nice Life may not be cut out for the casual listener, their tendency for soaring atmospheric beauty has struck a chord with a growing audience. This is even more prevalent on the duo’s new highly-anticipated LP, The Unnatural World, their first release in four years.
Leading off The Unnatural World is the ethereal “GuggenheimWax Museum,” setting the tone of Have A Nice Life’s sound. From there, the more biting post-punk “Defenstration Song” and “Brutal Society” take effect, leading into heavier and more brooding territory. Hints of Joy Divison can be heard on “Music Will Untune the Sky,” while the band’s Black Metal influences take hold for the welling “Cropsey” and “Unholy Life.” The album concludes with the noise-ridden tracks “Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate” and “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch.”
The Unnatural World seems to pick up right were their 2010 EP, Time of Land left off. Their signature sound is firmly in place, but trails deeper down the path the band set onto. Standout tracks like “Defenstration Song” and “Dan and Time, Reunited By Fate” really capture the band’s vibe. Heavy but not metal, loud and ethereal but not complete noise rock, Have A Nice Life have carved a unique niche that The Unnatural World is firmly cemented into.
All in all, The Unnatural World is the perfect album for a wintery night spend home alone or a nightly walk through an old electric forest. The atmospheres are aplenty. It also serves as a good introduction to new fans, craving something heavy and abrasive, but beyond your average “heavy” guitar-driven music. For what it is, The Unnatural World is a practically perfect record, urging the listener to go back into the band’s short but sweet catalogue.
By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
The often misunderstood (or mystified) Goth genre has roots in the darker and/or unexplored Glam Rock and of the course early modern European historical definition. While many rock journalists have cited Jim Morrison the first Gothic Rock singer with his low, intriguing baritone vocals and previously unexplored lyrical themes which were often disturbing both psychologically and artistically in the 60’s, The Velvet Underground achieved the complete backdrop instrumentally and via arrangement including stylistic contributions.
Lou Reed, singer/songwriter, along with Sterling Morrison, the explorative guitarist and velvet-voiced songstress, Nico probably had more in common with darker art rock of their day but this is in fact why they were astounding as an ensemble to the genre’s infancy.
Into the 70’s, Nick Cave and The Birthday Party continued to travel the uncharted territories with his own brand of improv and perceived madness. And while Ian Curtis of Joy Division did much of the same, he examined personal and rugged emotion, no matter the sort. The depressed Goth myth can begin here unfortunately.
Obvious Jim Morrison influences in lower vocal register were apparent, staggered lyric-focused melodies (like Reed’s) were also highlighted. But instrumentally, The Birthday Party and Joy Division embodied not only the “sound” but also arrangement which as again revamped but with a focus on bottom register as a whole (i.e. bass guitar and other instruments which include a lasher/velvety bottom end or even guitars with deeper timbre). These elements were explored and solidified. The style and name of the genre was being defined.
In September of 1979, Tony Wilson, journalist and host of the British show, So It Goes, used the term Gothic to define Joy Division’s stark and eerie style.
“Dancing music with Gothic overtones.” he explained.
By the time contemporaries such as the longstanding Sisters of Mercy which spanned, and spawned many other subgenres such as Goth-Industrial and Goth Metal. Eventually, contemporaries such as Souxsie and the Banshees and The Cure added their elements and developed their more otherworldly, ethereal take on the genre lyrically and instrumentally. Often sporting an odd mash up of the darker corners of the Glam Rock movement and a sort of Post-Punk irony, the aforementioned acts delivered and stamped Goth Rock into the psyches of any sub or sub sub-genre.
While some sub-genres are often thought of when many people nowadays think of “Goth,” there is no substitute for the root and its purposes; examining universal dark themes (not evil, but dark).
Dark is defined in the Free Dictionary as “Lacking or having very little light: a dark corner. b. Lacking brightness: a dark day. 2. Reflecting only a small fraction of incident light.” Such is the very definition of Goth in ANY medium dating back to Medieval and Renaissance visual art and architecture.
While acts such as Bauhaus are often praised and many worthy modern Goth acts (especially Industrial acts) such as ThouShaltNot are overlooked, modern dark ambient and ethereal examples especially from the Projekt Records label are strongest overall “GOTHS.” Acts such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, This Ascension and Unto Ashes, as well as the solo projects from Mortiis from the Black Metal band, Emperor, own this era of the genre and have kept it strong and genuine since the 90’s via label owner and musician, Sam Rosenthal.
In addition to my “Picks of the Week” which spanned a proto- Goth to 80’s Goth timeline, I also offer for your consideration the aforementioned classic acts and the following modern often overlooked examples of the best of the genre. Enjoy! And do try and pick up or legally download these independent artists’ records.
Black Tape for a Blue Girl – Across a Thousand Blades