Review: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou’s ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ Seizes a Bleak Moment & Subsumes It

May Our Chambers Be Full - Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou
May Our Chambers Be Full - Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

Danny's Take

8 Music Quality
5 Sonic Diversity
8 Production
7 Content Originality
8 Lyricism
6 Memorability
8 Arrangement
‘May Our Chambers Be Full’, the debut collaboration between Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle, feels like a natural synthesis of the artists’ styles from its blasphemous aesthetics, to its bleak lyrics.

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‘May Our Chambers Be Full’’ – Thou, Emma Ruth Rundle
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Thou, throughout their wide and varied history, have taken pains to resist categorization. With a vast and labyrinthine array of releases, the band while typically operating as a sludge metal or experimental doom outfit found their first major critical success came with 2014’s Heathen, where collaborator Emily McWilliams provided clean vocals. Understated acoustic numbers weave through their catalogue of otherwise oppressive metal that defines their sound to most listeners. Indeed, their appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk could have been mistaken for a different band to some listeners (and judging by the like to dislike ratio, it was), so varied was the band when lacking Bryan Funck’s distinctive dirty vocals.

Emma Ruth Rundle is an iconoclast in her own right, with a similarly broad swath of music in her discography. She’s an artisan of albums as distinct as her first solo album, Some Heavy Ocean, a folk rock joint, and her work in post-rock with outfits like Red Sparrows and Marriages. Rundle’s agonized voice flits over acoustics and walls of sound in turn – though her most distinctive sound typically comes from her work in post-rock.

May Our Chambers Be Full - Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou
May Our Chambers Be Full – Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

Both artists seem to be defined by a fundamental opposition to hierarchy. Thou’s predilections may be more obvious, given their often explicit endorsement of anarchism as a philosophy, but both artists’ work seems to form a constellation rather than a pyramid. Albums released in parallel with one another, never moves to something more grandiose and self-important, always moves to the side for something different, unexplored.

May Our Chambers Be Full, the debut collaboration between the two artists (released October 30 via Sacred Bones Records), thus feels like a natural evolution of both the artists’ styledooms. From the blasphemous aesthetics, whether it be Thou’s fetid imagery or Rundle’s lyricism, which flirts as much with the light as the dark and often deals with heavy themes, such as mental illness.

All of Thou’s and all Rundle’s talents come to bear on an album that, despite its only 37 minute runtime, manages to summon equal parts grandeur, oppressiveness, and elegance in what is a solid debut collaboration. 

Beginning with “Killing Floor,” Thou and Rundle initiate listeners into their world, bleak and mournful. Addressed to some third party, or perhaps multiple, in second person, Rundle’s vocals take the helm, “For life so thoughtless/For dreams no one believed/There’s a helm of sorrow/It is finally sinking.” Funck’s vocals occasionally accent – far back in the mix, onerous, gradually becoming more prominent in the mix until the final few moments of the song where they take prominence while Rundle’s vocals move up, higher and with increasing reverb making them ever more translucent. As the two vocal lines separate, lead guitar riffs smoulder in the background – a blasted landscape parting Rundle’s Heaven and Funck’s Hell.

Emma Ruth Rundle x Thou © Craig Mulcahy
Emma Ruth Rundle x Thou © Craig Mulcahy

Clean and dirty vocals are a staple of hardcore music, but what really elevates “Killing Floor,” however is something else: the confluence of post-rock and doom metal that permeates the album and creates something I’ll tentatively call a clean instrumental-dirty instrumental dichotomy. Back of the mix on “Killing Floor,” veiled by the chaos around them, weave guitars radiating pure sound – the instrumental counterpoint to Thou’s sludgy guitars and lumbering drums.

Other songs, like “Monolith” and “Out of Existence” are more straightforward. It makes sense, given their brevity in comparison to goliath songs like bookends “Killing Floor” and “The Valley,” though the position makes them feel somewhat tepid by comparison. In spite of their brutality, they stand out as the less interesting songs, missing the simmering build up of the bookend tracks or the energy of “Ancestral Recall” and “Magickal Cost.”

These latter two tracks are standouts, kinetic and devastating, perhaps the only two tracks on the album that could be said to have hooks in any traditional sense. “Ancestral Recall” in particular features some of the best guitar work on the album.

May Our Chambers Be Full by Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou
May Our Chambers Be Full (alternate cover) – Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

“Into Being” is perhaps the apotheosis of Rundle and Funck’s vocal interplay. The two trade verses throughout three of the track’s four-or-so minutes before colliding, mixed equally on top of one another – equally mournful, equally devastating in their own ways.

Atwood has already covered the single release of “The Valley” in detail, but the bookend to “Killing Floor” functions as a compelling closer to May Our Chambers Be Full. On it, Rundle and Funck describe a bleak, featureless valley representing, in their own words, the effects of mental illness – a monotone, inescapable experience. Ultimately, they seize upon anger as fuel, a grim hope at the end of a merciless listening and lyrical experience.

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:: stream/purchase May Our Chambers Be Full here ::

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May Our Chambers Be Full - Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

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? © Craig Mulcahy

:: May Our Chambers Be Full ::

by Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou

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