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Album Review: EMMA RUTH RUNDLE & THOU May Our Chambers Be Full

9/10 Reviewer
Score

While the Misfits cover set wasn’t the first meeting of Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, those shows had everyone waiting expectantly for a collaboration. A year later, the band and the singer-songwriter are ready to drop their debut joint project. It’s good timing, two years after Rundle rose to the top of post-rock-tinged folk with On Dark Horses and Thou sent the bar for philosophizing sludge/doom into outer space with Magus. The two artists' styles are more connected than they might seem on first listen, as proven by May Our Chambers Be Full. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou bring the best out of each other, with plenty of sonic staples for fans of both artists to chew on.

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Given the spacious weightiness of Rundle’s recent output, and Thou’s 2018 acoustic EP Inconsolable and 2020 Nirvana covers compilation, this musical meeting is quite natural. Opening cut “Killing Floor” takes on a glacial, shoegazey sheen, as Rundle’s voice glides over oceanic distortion like the doom equivalent of Bilinda Butcher on Loveless. Thou vocalist Bryan Funck’s ghoulish rasp layers over Rundle’s singing, offering a riveting amalgamation of extremity and serenity. Even when drummer Tyler Coburn locks into a mid-tempo sludge metal stomp on “Monolith," there's a warm ambiance to the crushing low end of bassist Mitch Wells, supporting the addictive riffage of guitarists Matthew Thudium, Andy Gibbs, and KC Stafford. The thickness and dissonance punch through at opportune moments but never overshadows Rundle’s angelic voice.

While the simultaneous vocals offer a unique timbre, Funck and Rundle take a good-cop-bad-cop approach on “Out of Existence." This serves to polarize bludgeoning beatdowns and dreamy post-rock soundscapes. In the same way, “Ancestral Recall” provides more riff-tastic hatred for those who can’t get enough of Thou’s suffocating darkness. The Thou-ish passages meet the band’s high standard through explosive drum fills and evocative guitar work, but the money moments center on the cross-pollination of Thou's doom and gloom and Rundle’s enveloping passion. The former track's doomy guitar leads dance with her forlorn singing, while her nimble melodicism augments the latter's punishing, violent groove.

Photo by Craig Mulcahy

Folk singers fronting doom bands have become rather prevalent in the wake of Chelsea Wolfe and the like, but do not make the mistake of approaching May Our Chambers Be Full like the current trends. Both artists know their way around atmosphere, which is why “Magickal Cost” succeeds both as a devastating attack and an emotional ballad. The song’s noisy guitar solo and detuned, syncopated guitar strains find Funck’s glass-gargling screams in rare form, but Rundle remains just as powerful with her sweeping performances. The seamless jump from one to 1,000 at the start of “Into Being” encapsulates the chemistry between these musicians. The point being, this album transcends the expectations of Emma Ruth Rundle singing over Thou, displaying intrepid growth for all parties involved

As Funck and Rundle know when to follow each other’s lead and when to spotlight their own styles, so does the raging sludge metal intuitively fall back on doom folk. Closing cut “The Valley” brings violin to the forefront (via Louie Michot of Louisiana Cajun band Lost Bayou Ramblers). The vibe recalls Inconsolable, driven by thudding tom-toms, smoldering chord progressions and sultry vocal harmonies. By extracting dynamism from bone-crunching heaviness, the song’s concluding sonic depth charge comes off like a well-timed culmination of the fervor built up by heartfelt lines like: “I want to look once through the eyes of someone good/ So I can gather up the names of our mothers/ And wash away the shame and lift them to sainthood.” This final track is arguably the best realization of this album's potential—not the easiest achievement after so many solid tunes.

Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle balance ugliness and beauty, but it’s really the emotional impact that makes May Our Chambers Be Full an indispensable listen. More than a just-for-fun meeting of minds, this thing plays out like a necessary chapter of the artists’ careers. It begs for a sequel, but perhaps it’s best to let the scene rest after such a spectacular statement.

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