Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’

By Ian Kenworthy

What do you get if you cross a haunting singer/songwriter with a noisy doom metal band? With ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ we’re about to find out, and let us assure you this is no joke. Emma Ruth Rundle has teamed up with Thou for a collaborative album that challenges what both artists are capable of. Prepare yourself – it’s quite a journey.

For those of you who haven’t discovered Emma Ruth Rundle’s body of work, she is a singer/guitarist known for atmospheric ballads. Her most recent album, 2018’s ‘On Dark Horses’, saw her blend emotive lyrics with electric guitar to stunning effect. She also contributes her considerable talents to groups such as Nocturnes, Red Sparrowes, and Marriages (to name but a few) – Rundle is certainly no stranger to working in a collaborative environment. With each of these bands she explores different musical avenues, and this collaboration is no different. It has allowed her to indulge in her darkest, heaviest impulses.

Describing Thou’s sound is a little tricky. While ostensibly a doom metal band, they refuse to align themselves with one sound. If you’re willing to dip your toes into their discography you will discover a rich palette of influences and styles; among their creations is ‘The House Primordial’, a feed-back drenched experiment in noise-metal favouring huge guitars and scuzzy basslines. In contrast, ‘Inconsolable’ is a collection of mournful prog-rock songs, that uses clean singing over their more usual shrieks and death growls. You never quite know what you will get, and for every bone-crushing riff they throw in a delicate run of arpeggios, usually drenched in gloom and atmosphere. Yet, by giving each release a theme, their work always feels remarkably cohesive. On ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ they have drawn upon all these sounds to create another ambitious and well-rounded offering.

Opener ‘Killing Floor’ is exactly what you’d hope for and expect; a slow but expansive soundscape typical of Thou, with Rundle’s guitar and voice soaring above the doom-laden mix. Angsty screams sit low in the mix giving it emotional weight while the music is crushingly heavy. If all the songs sounded like this it would be a satisfying record, but there is so much more here. Subsequent tracks take a different direction, weaving the two artists’ sounds together in a far more interesting way – rather than creating an expansive soundscape, songs like ‘Monolith’ focus the atmosphere into a hard, punchy assault, with Rundle adding elegance and grace.

The album’s midsection leans less on the doomy sound and instead favours a faster, almost rock feel – albeit one filtered through massive buzzing basslines and thick, abrasive guitars. No matter how these sludgy riffs are framed, Rundle’s voice is the glue holding the songs together. It’s an approach that works brilliantly on the huge steamroller ‘Magickal Cost’, and on ‘Into Being’ where some noisy guitar abuse adds extra flavour.

While the songs are presented as a challenging nest of styles, it’s a testament to how well the two artists work together that they come across as heartfelt and satisfying. This is most evident on the back-and-forth grandeur of ‘Ancestral Recall’, which features a heady mix of chewy screams, churning guitars, and an beautifully sung interlude courtesy of Rundle.

Finally, ‘Valley’ brings the album to a dynamic end. A hauntingly beautiful track, it might at first appear to be a meatier interpretation of Rundle’s solo work, but it has much more going on beneath the surface, swelling like a tidal wave of emotion that brings the record to crushing climax.

What makes this collaboration so essential is the way the two artists’ separate sounds complement each other, while still remaining disparate; it makes for a slightly uncomfortable listen, but that’s why it works so well. It’s an alluring sound that makes you work to find its deeper meaning, and doesn’t detract from its emotional heft.

‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ is an expressive canvas, painted with a powerful vision and a more than worthwhile collaboration. Its beauty is smudged and the two musical strands intertwine to create a whole picture, fitting together more like a tapestry than a jigsaw. It is a graceful sonic dance, with neither artist treading on the other’s toes and revealing the album’s greatest strength.

IAN KENWORTHY

 

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