The power of unrestrained collaboration
When most people think of genres that promote collaboration, they rarely think of metal. Despite this, metal artists release thousands of splits and 7” pressings each year. Usually, economics play a part. Metal bands, especially underground ones, struggle to shoulder the financial burden of a record pressing. The workaround? Release two songs alongside another band that has two songs to release. Lately, the split release method has begun to be replaced in the dungeons of extreme metal and experimental music by straight up collaborations. Sacred Bones has pushed this farther than anyone with collabs from the Body, Full of Hell, Uniform and more. At this point, in order to properly make their mark, they needed a release that could stand out among the already eye popping crowd they’d assembled. They found just that in May Our Chambers Be Full.
Make no bones about it, the combination of Emma Ruth Rundle, a folk and ambient artist, and Thou, one of the heaviest sludge metal bands in existence, is odd. But the unorthodox combination yields unexpected results. “Killing Floor” the opening track, provides evidence of the album’s ambition in spades. Kicking off with a synth-driven hum and a rattle of guitar, it conveys a sense of wonder and optimism, a far cry from the typical fare of Thou. But that more optimistic tone doesn’t hide the gut-churning heaviness of Thou, it enhances it. Combining Rundle’s natural vocal power with the crushing weight of Thou’s guitars, the two groups are able to strike at the heart of classic grunge. The loud-quiet-loud songwriting method that the Pixies pioneered is found in abundance here, and the group perfectly deploys it to drag an intense emotional response out of the listener.
It should come as no surprise that so much of this record feels connected to earlier grunge, albeit with the volume cranked to 11. The latest release from Thou, Blessings of the Highest Order, reimagined the songs of Nirvana as sludge metal tracks. While it missed in parts, the album proved that Thou could indeed reimagine the emotional honesty of grunge in a heavier and more aggressive space. It turns out that Rundle’s voice was the missing ingredient. Even on heavier tracks like “Ancestral Recall,” her vocals emotionally ground the track in a way that Bryan Funck’s full throated screams could not.
Not content to be a background player or an accent piece, Rundle claims a few of the tracks on this album for her own devices. “Magickal Cost” for instance, begins with one of the slowest and softest intros of any track. The reduced instrumentation paves the way for Rundle’s vocals and lyrics to truly sink into one’s conscious mind. The clatter of guitars remains ever present—a storm cloud, a threat of lightning on the horizon. When the funnel cloud finally forms over one’s grain silo, it’s not only too late, but it’s too powerful. People are immediately swept away into the downward spiral. But should one assume Rundle was not involved in the guitars, they’d be mistaken. Instead of the chugging, relentless thrust of Thou’s usual sludgy fare, the guitars come across as almost glossy. The dynamic force this provides can’t be overstated. That it is effectively deployed across the album, even on the exceedingly heavy “Into Being,” making it all the more admirable.
It goes without saying that May Our Chambers Be Full will not be for everyone. The fury of Thou is fully unleashed, even if they slightly alter their tone. Rundle sings with a driving focus that should be appealing to everyone, but zeroing in on her performance between the fury of the instruments is no small feat. Regardless of the challenges, listeners need to give this record a shot. Thou and Rundle have both torn the musical world asunder with their recent projects. These are artists at the top of their creative powers, and the level at which they are simply “going for it” is admirable, regardless of whether or not their projects are considered successful. Luckily, there should be no qualms about May Our Chambers Be Full. Immediately and urgently, this album demands people’s ears, and it won’t let them down should they acquiesce.