Written by: Izzy
So normally, I like to give a little background in the intro paragraph of my reviews about the band I’m reviewing--some of their history, or how I came to discover the album. But in the case of May Our Chambers Be Full, Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou's recent cooperative album, neither artist is one I’m particularly familiar with, despite their long and storied careers.
Thou are a band by which I’ve briefly listened to a couple albums and previous splits; they’re a very traditional sounding sludge metal band and I was never crazy about them. Not a bad band, but certainly not one that ever amazed me. Emma Ruth Rundle, on the other hand, I knew nothing about previously. After some quick googling I found that she’s made a handful of solo albums to decent acclaim, her style towing the line between singer-songwriter, dream pop, folk, and shoegaze, but has also been a member in post-rock and atmo-sludge bands. She also notably helps run the record label Sargent House, a rather eclectic group of diverse and beloved artists, most notably featuring Chelsea Wolfe and Kristin Hayter (A.K.A. Lingua Ignota.)
Looking at those two descriptions, you’d probably never expect a collaboration between them, but through some strange miracle May Our Chambers Be Full was born, and I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. I tried to imagine beforehand what a record like this could sound like and I couldn’t come up with anything, but despite that, I know that I would have never expected what we actually got.
While usually sludge is a genre I’d describe as oppressive or filthy, May Our Chambers Be Full is quite the opposite. It’s lush, dreamlike and gorgeous, expansive, and truly full sounding. Perhaps calling it “the opposite” of contemporary sludge would be incorrect--it may be closer to a re-imagining of the same sounds, pulling them in new directions, creating an “anti-sludge” that, rather than being primitive and dark, is bright and beautiful. Uplifting instead of aggressive. Now, of course, I’m embellishing a bit, what this album does isn’t that much different to what atmospheric sludge metal bands like Cult of Luna or shoegazey post-metal bands like Planning For Burial have done before, but the unique stylistic clash between these two artists does bring something to this record I just can’t pinpoint, but others have noticed as well. The biggest complaint behind May Our Chambers Be Full that I have seen from others is that people went into it expecting a new Thou album, and, as a result, felt that the more melodic approach and ERR’s gentle but prominent vocals were detached or conflicted. There's the concern that it is lacking a proper identity: it isn’t really sludge but it also isn’t just an Emma Ruth Rundle album with heavy instrumentation either. Maybe because I expected nothing in particular out of this album, I find it to be far more than just the sum of its parts.
The perplexing brand of post-metal present here defies a simple explanation. While it maintains the vicious grooves and commanding sound of Thou’s previous output, ERR’s contribution of angelic vocals and a dream pop inspired approach from her own work results in an extremely accessible and easy listening metal record that still remains brilliantly composed and crushing, filled with spectacular performances and incredible riffs, building a cohesive sound and atmosphere while still having every track feel special.
I’ve heard the term “doomgaze” thrown around for awhile: a microgenre of slow, metallic shoegaze with an emphasis on the contrasts between heavy and soft, not directly related to any one metal genre like doom or sludge, but more just an all encompassing term for atmospheric, plodding post-metal fused with the ethereal and vast sound of shoegaze. The more I tried to dissect just what this album is, the more I came to think that Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou’s work here would fall perfectly into that description. It is haunting and looming, but also flourishing and heavenly, giving off an inexplicable allure that draws me into it, and while I struggle to truly put my adoration for this album into words, I will say it here plain as day that I think this is one of 2020's most phenomenal metal releases.
No matter how much I try and figure out just what exactly this album is doing that is so amazing, I only come back with more questions, listening to May Our Chambers Be Full seems to give a simple answer, but appears more genre-defying as you unravel away its layers. The only thing I can say that truly matters is that Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou have made an album full of extraordinarily good music.
Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full was released Oct. 30th from Sacred Bones Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!