It’s safe to say that Chelsea Wolfe’s 2017 album, Hiss Spun, is her most aggressive record to date. This is due in part to the animalistic drumming of one Jess Gowrie. The two have grown their musical chemistry over the years, so it was only a matter of time before the duo broke off onto their own tangent—enter Mrs. Piss. Gowrie’s history with punk bands like Happy Fangs lends her to a more intense vibe, but what she’s doing as a multi-instrumentalist on To Crawl Inside comes off like Acid Bath getting curb-stomped by digital hardcore. Wolfe has never sounded like this either, driven to terrifying heights and depths by backdrop of raw and frantic heaviness.
The 40-second “To Crawl Inside” feels like descending into the sewers of hell, as distorted electronic blasts guide Wolfe’s hyperventilating vocalizations to drop into a chilling tagline, “I’m bathing in the filth of the world.” It’s a fair warning of the places the next 20 minutes will go. Then it’s off to the races with the moody, blunt impact of “Downer Surrounded by Uppers”—think in terms of a noisier take on Type O Negative’s The Origin of the Feces (emphasis on, well, that artwork). Wolfe’s virtuosic voice hasn’t sounded this insane before, but her signature aura has more presence on “Knelt.” Her ominous melodies weave in and out of her fuzzed-out, plodding riff—occultish doom driven mad by Grief and Noothgrush.
The duo does seem to take pleasure in sonic depravity, as the pulsing synths and rattling noises give way to hammering noisecore on “Nobody Wants to Party With Us.” “I drink too much/ I fuck too hard” encapsulates the lack of control and inhibition Mrs. Piss represents. The fact that Wolfe can maintain atmospheric melodies within such a grating din is frankly absurd, but she musters an unprecedented and unbridled rage to coincide with more chaotic numbers.
Gowrie integrates harsh textures and mechanical rhythms into the primitive riffs of “M.B.O.T.W.O.,” but calling it industrial music seems reductive. The grimy bass lines and spine-snapping rhythm changes of “Self-Surgery” have a distinct human touch, brought into the realm of noise music by volume-clipped recording. Wolfe loses none of her impressive range as she hits those high notes, but the gravelly filter makes them as much a feedback stab as as they are a transfixing siren song. In the same way, “You Took Everything” would succeed on its own merit as a sensual, hard-grooving onslaught of riffs. The grinding overtones act more as a dynamic enhancer than a jarring contrast.
Closing cut “Mrs. Piss” rounds out this sneak attack of a debut with its synthetic backbeat and buzzsaw riffs dropping into a haunting outro of grungy, folky doom. In either extreme, Wolfe’s harmonic depth and engrossing melodies are on full display. She retains her best elements as a guitarist and vocalist within Gowrie’s savage instrumentation, but it’s also clear this album gave her a much-needed shot of adrenaline after fully embracing folk on her last LP. Self-Surgery’s biggest success comes from the unique vibe it elicits from both musicians. It’s a concept more than worth expanding on.