If there is one thing that Emma Ruth Rundle knows how to create perfectly, it’s atmosphere. From the moments where it is sparse and delicate, right through to soaring passages of grandeur, Rundle’s second solo LP, ‘Marked For Death’ has an unforgiving, and suffocating atmosphere. Even at just eight tracks long, it is an emotional endurance test that cuts into you like soft knife as you feel the anguish, torment, and sense of defeat that Rundle effortlessly conveys.
The album builds on the aching soundscapes employed by Rundle on her debut solo album, ‘Some Heavy Ocean’, yet isn’t quite in the same dense, crushing realm as ‘Salome’, the stunning full-length she released last year with her band, Marriages. While it does have more in common with the latter in terms of more full band instrumentation than her previous solo material, ‘Marked For Death’ is in a league of its own. The most noticeable difference is the confidence that seems to have grown in Rundle’s musical delivery. The narrative may be derived from helplessness and fragility, yet it would appear Rundle has pushed every nuance on ‘Marked For Death’ as if it were as much a statement of intent as it is cathartic release.
Each track on ‘Marked For Death’ carries enough weight to be standalone pieces of art, particularly the title track, which is a slow burning composition that rises up to a cacophonous peak. However once played in the context of the album, they evoke various degrees of emotion and feeling at each turn. The near-cinematic production and precise arrangement of the track order makes ‘Marked For Death’ an incredibly cohesive body of work, too. The layered wall of noise that wraps around the pained tale told through ‘Protection’, compliments the intricately composed ‘Hand of God’, which is harrowing, reverb-soaked ballad.
Notwithstanding that the album is filled with a variety of sounds, ‘Marked For Death’ is still, at times, serene and sullen. A prime example would be ‘Furious Angel’, which starts as probably one of the most accomplished and graceful moments on the LP. Before it eventually collapses over rapturous, earth shattering drum beats, it shows that Rundle hasn’t drifted so far from the minimal nature of ‘Some Heavy Ocean’, and serves as the bridge between her solo work and Marriages.
However the album’s closing track, ‘Real Big Sky’, is without a doubt the most beautiful track she has ever recorded. Left in its original, raw demo form and reserved for just the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, Rundle delivers a stirring vocal performance. “I don’t want to be awake when it takes me” echoes from the pit of her stomach in breathtaking fashion, finally surrendering defeat to the power of her own emotion.
While there are literally hundreds of albums that claim to be heartbreaking, honest, or any other adjective that you can think of, ‘Marked For Death’ is one of the few that you can truly believe in. Emma Ruth Rundle has a way of making you feel her pain, her sorrow, and her vulnerability in the most real way, almost as if you were there yourself. ‘Marked For Death’ will undoubtedly cement her as one of the great songwriters of our generation.