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United In Pain: EMMA RUTH RUNDLE & THOU - May Our Chambers Be Full Review

A stunning expression of force, fragility & fortitude.

Photograph by Craig Mulcahy

Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):


Two of extreme music’s underground forces have combined in complete unison to create an album of towering majesty & gripping intensity. This highly anticipated collaboration comes on the back of a Roadburn-initiated union, and successfully merges the signature elements of each side, showcasing THOU’s swampy riffs and blistering rage and EMMA RUTH RUNDLE’s soaring vocals and melodic guitar nuances. May Our Chambers Be Full is not only a landmark achievement in each artist’s individual catalog, but the collective effort explores new terrain that was previously beyond the sonic reach of either artist on their own. It stands as a testament to their shared creative vision for the project and the cohesive synergies found in their combined song writing abilities.

Opener Killing Floor rumbles, swirls and lurches its way out of the gate. With a restrained, slow plodding tempo, the song immediately demonstrates how effortlessly the two unique sounds of this collaboration blend together. Combining THOU’s trademark, low-end, warm, thick, fuzzed-out guitar tone, with RUNDLE’s own subtle guitar flourishes, the kick-off track builds a cascading wall of guitars that encircle what is sure to become an iconic vocal pairing.

Alone, THOU has never sounded this fragile, nor has EMMA RUTH RUNDLE’s music ever sounded so full bodied and complex. The new elements to each other’s respective style brings undeniable accretive benefits, and results in a collection of songs that are as dense, captivating and as hook-laden as anything either artist has penned to date.

The subtle layering across the entire album is a thing of beauty, and well worth exploring with the aid of a good set of headphones. Long-time THOU collaborator James Whitten at Hightower Recording in New Orleans has artfully managed to bring together opposing forces of the sonic spectrum, best demonstrated by the pounding Into Being. Here we are presented not just with RUNDLE’s floating vocal line abstractly “harmonized” with Funck’s bark, but she’s also creating parallel harmonies with her own dual-tracked vocal lines, all set atop the density of no less than four guitars. That each of these layers is discernible and subtly articulated is amazing, a feature that is deliciously revealing with repeat listens.

Similar to the way in which THOU’s previous collaborative effort with The Body that matched Bryan Funck’s rhaspy growl perfectly with Chip King’s untethered, shrieking wails, fusing them together seamlessly and allowing both disparate vocal styles to shine equally, the same too has been achieved here to a similarly distant stylistic vocal pairing. And it works perfectly. By bringing their respective vocal personalities to the table, the resulting emotional horizon is expanded in opposing directions of aggression/rage (courtesy of Funck) and fragile, melodic majesty (RUNDLE's signature). These seemingly conflicting forces comfortably co-inhabit the same space, layered together at times. In other passages they remain distant and isolated. This constant trade off throughout the course of the entire album is never forced or formulaic, and always manages to adapt to the specific needs of each individual track.

Together both groups unabashedly honor their influences from early ‘90s icons like the Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, and the Screaming Trees. Interestingly, this is a lane that both artists seem to have each individually explored in some of their own recent output: THOU’s duo of EPs in Rheia Sylvia (2018) and Inconsolable (2018) alongside RUNDLE’s most recent solo full-length effort On Dark Horses (2019) both carried an undeniable influence from this period. On May Our Chambers Be Full, these references exist more in terms of song structure and a broader period aesthetic rather than any overt stylistic replications.

Yet there are moments when some of those ‘90s cues sneak through a little more conspicuously. Note the Jerry Cantrell tone worship on the bridge solo of “Out of Existence”, or the brief Mayonaise hitch/feedback reference in Into Being, and the almost Sound of Silence-era Rollins Band breakdown riff bursting out of the standout track Ancestral Recall. Make no mistake though, a simple '90s homage this not; May Our Chambers Be Full contains all the signature elements of white-knuckle rage, stomping riffs and caustic attitude that has come to define THOU’s aesthetic.

Added to that signature style though is EMMA's inimitable presence. The album further solidifies our long-held view that RUNDLE possesses one of the most captivating and emotionally piercing voices in modern music. On this record, she sounds even more confident, strong and powerful, yet still harnessing a fragility and poise that place her in a unique orbit of artists in today’s underground landscape. Her work on Magickal Cost exemplifies this range: her dexterous handling of broad stylistic approaches, tones and registers is a thing of beauty. She creates tension and atmosphere in quieter passages, then balances elegance and strength to offset the raging storm that has enveloped around her. It is these moments of contrast where this collaboration delivers its most stirring results.

This effort is a true coupling of hands, an intertwining of visions by two creative forces that share a bond and spirit that is perfectly aligned. This record delivers everything and more on the potential that a collaboration of this magnitude was capable of, given the body of work they are each individually responsible for. May Our Chambers Be Full provides a perfectly balanced measure of potency and dynamism at a time when we need it most.


May Our Chambers Be Full arrives on October 30th via Sacred Bones. Get yours HERE.

Cover photograph by Craig Mulcahy


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