Knowing that Chelsea Wolfe would be following up the much-acclaimed The Grime and the Glow less than a year later with Apokalypsis was a bit scary. Putting out a followup so soon after her debut raised a few questions regarding the quality of the song writing, but even more about it being her first proper studio album. So much of The Grime‘s charm and appeal seemed to emanate from the steady hiss of the Tascam 488 that it seemed entirely possible that the studio would sabotage Wolfe’s abilities at creating atmosphere by doing what studios are meant to: separate, clarify and reign in the recording process.
Thankfully, Apokalypsis, doesn’t concede atmosphere in trade for a better articulated sound or song-writing for accessibility. Yes, some of the murkiness and grit of the first album is lost and a few of the weirder deviations on Grime have been omitted – think “Fang” or “Deep Talks.” There’s no arguing that the album has a certain polish to it that simply wasn’t possible on the 8 track, but it never strays into sounding over-produced or overly compressed. The absence of songs like “Deep Talks” or “The Whys,” while depriving the album of a little weirdness, never results in a sterile, middling sound as more refined experiments like ‘The Wasteland” still remain.
From the first proper song “Mer” all the way until the closing notes of “Movie Screen,” Wolfe seems infinitely more comfortable with her voice. It’s been pushed to the forefront here on the album and sounds fuller and bolder even as it continues to be multi-tracked and drenched in reverb. Songs like “Tracks (Tall Bodies)” and the Fever Ray inspired multi-tracked and pitch-shifted vocals of “Friedrichshain” especially seem to benefit from the studio’s ability to focus attention on Wolfe’s powerful voice.
Another of the album’s successes is the addition of a full band, which again, was a gamble for an artist who’d previously pieced together backing tracks from various sources as they became available. It’s interesting to notice that the two songs that make an appearance from Grime are the only places where the band seems at a loss. “Demons” (formerly “Bounce House Demons”) and “Moses” still work beautifully as songs, but it’s hard to argue that the band adds anything to the foundation Wolfe laid on Grime.
However, aside from those two tracks, the band’s contribution to the sound and success of the album is significant. “Tracks (Tall Bodies)” marries interplay between bass and keys over a gorgeous back-beat. They’re also integral to the lumbering stunner “Pale on Pale,” which is far and away the best track on the entire album. Every bit of Wolfe’s ability to create an apocalyptic, menacing atmosphere is focused into a stripped down, seven-minute long kindred spirit to Neurosis’ “Times of Grace” or Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath.”
As was the case with Grime, the temptation to insist Wolfe owes a severe debt to PJ Harvey or Elizabeth Fraser remains, but it is an easy, lazy temptation. While there are undeniable similarities in vocal tics and overall aesthetic, especially with Harvey, simply saying that she owes that debt denies the credit she deserves for what she’s accomplished so far. With the largely successful Apokalypsis, Wolfe has continued to successfully make her case that she deserves to be counted as a contemporary.