Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

May Our Chambers Be Full

Written by: AP on 04/04/2021 16:36:01

While Thou are no strangers to joining forces with other artists, having been involved in a staggering number of split releases and collaborated with the experimental duo the body on two EPs as well as a full-length album over the years, their partnering up with the former Red Sparowes frontwoman Emma Ruth Rundle in 2019 nonetheless looked like an unlikely union on paper. Yet unbeknownst to them all, they had been fans of each other’s music for some time when, in 2018, Thou and Rundle happened to share a dressing room at Seattle’s Northwest Terror Fest and sowed the seeds for collaborating in some shape or form in the future. And when Thou was invited to be the artist-in-residence at the 2019 edition of Roadburn Festival, the opportunity to realise their long-dreamed alliance arose at last. Thus was born the first draft for “May Our Chambers Be Full”, which, after a solid if not altogether breathtaking début at the Dutch festival, was since refined and translated by the seven musicians into a studio album — and it now sounds like a match made in heaven. Who knew that the dark and somber neofolk of Rundle could merge so seamlessly with the noxious sludge metal spewed out by Thou?

Considering that Thou’s line-up includes no less than three guitarists and Rundle wields a guitar herself, it should not come as a surprise that “May Our Chambers Be Full” sounds massive. And to make it even gnarlier, while the former trio plays in G# standard tuning, Rundle uses a baritone Fender Jaguar axe with custom open tunings to create a soundscape that is markedly denser and heavier than either of the two artists’ own output, but in which it is nonetheless easy to identify their distinct personalities. The album opens with the intriguing “Killing Floor”, which has a warm and fuzzy tone, and almost sounds like a Torche track slowed to a crawl. The glum lyrics in it strike a stark contrast to the uplifting instrumentals and Rundle’s mellow singing, which, like the rest of the material on the album, is delivered in a peculiar duet with Thou’s frontman Bryan Funck. It feels strange to admit that the experience of hearing a female singing voice like Rundle’s fused with acerbic growls like Funck’s not only works, but actually produces a perfect harmony unlike anything you will have heard before. And in the following “Monolith”, which finds this collection of musicians balancing crushing sludge riffs with lighter atmospherics, one of Thou’s three guitarists, KC Stafford, weighs in with his own idiosyncratic voice to create another, no less striking duet with Funck to render the song an immediate and lasting highlight of the record.

Indeed, compared to the initial live début of this collaboration, there is very much a sense that the rough edges were filed down in the studio and that certain parts were perhaps even rearranged to build “May Our Chambers Be Full” into the masterpiece the Roadburn crowd was hoping and expecting to hear two years ago. The pieces fell into place, and while the resulting album is more or less exactly the sum of its constituent parts — sludgy, atmospheric metal with an undercurrent of neofolk — they fuse together so seamlessly that one momentarily forgets how both Rundle’s and Thou’s music sounds on its own. A good example is the spellbinding “Ancestral Recall”, in which their two styles exist in a reciprocal pattern; first a hazy, ethereal passage of ringing guitars and Rundle airing her smoky pipes very much in the vein of her former band Red Sparowes, then the heavy, blues soaked riffs, insistent drumming and raspy growls that are the signature of Thou’s musical approach — and repeat. The transitions between the segments leave nothing to be desired in neither that song nor any of the rest, with “Magickal Cost” and “The Valley” both delivering another spine tingling lesson in how to juxtapose darkness and light, the subdued and the full blast. These are without a doubt some of those most curious, and yet well-written examples of hybrid metal ever to have graced the genre, while also representing some of the best material either of the two artists have composed thus far.

In a year that was bursting with excellent metal releases like 2020, an album had to offer something truly special in order to stand out, and this union of two cult artists each already unique in their own genre was always going to be a candidate for the top spots, regardless of the initial skepticism I had been harbouring since Roadburn in 2019. The potential was obvious back then, and on “May Our Chambers Be Full”, the seven musicians involved in the project bring the full spectrum of their vision alive to awe-inspiring results. It is the sort of record that makes me wish more than ever that this hellish pandemic would be over just so Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou could take their show on the road and let us all experience the goosebumps that only a masterful performance and music can deliver. Here’s hoping — and until then, you would be a fool to miss out on the shivers it arouses just on record.

9

Download: Killing Floor, Ancestral Recall, Magickal Cost, The Valley
For the fans of: Emma Ruth Rundle, Red Sparowes, Thou, Yob
Listen: Bandcamp

Release date 30.10.2020
Sacred Bones

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