An even further promising release from ascendant experimental metal duo
For a selection of four B-side tracks that didn’t make the final cut for the preceding LP, The Helm of Sorrow absolutely does not sound like tracks undeserving of release. The second collaborative EP by contemporary gloom-metal heroine Emma Ruth Rundle (EER), with a most appropriate backing by the legendary band Thou, comes only months after their promising but fairly one-note (supposing that’s not a bad thing for doom metal, right?) first installation, May Our Chambers Be Full (2020).
In trying to not lazily abuse a musical ‘peanut butter and jelly’ metaphor, Rundle and Thou combine their styles in a way that’s fresh, not too unlike outsider-metal contemporaries such as Lingua Ignota & Full of Hell collaborating on Sightless Pit (2020). This concept is furthermore somehow more exhausted to produce a four track unreleased songs EP, but there is something more here.
The album opener, the gorgeously titled “Orphan Limbs,” takes its time to warm up, with some hauntingly reverberated guitar chords and orchestral-like effect pedal pads resonating in the background, topped off with ERR’s smokey but glassy voice, gliding like a bird on a lake of chilly water and fog. When the band finally fully comes in via a predictable yet functional staccato buildup highlighted by Bryan Funck’s particularly bitter and harsh vocal, the sound and dynamics are massively and unrelentingly compelling.
Following the opener, “Crone Dance” features the two prominent lead vocalists singing in unison, bringing forth a cohesive, werewolf sum of a screaming voice and a clean, delicate one that again sits perfectly on top of Thou’s written brand of devastatingly groovy, gloom-doom-fuck-up-the-room riffs. The song features an ungodly hybrid breakdown/verse-ish section in the second half, before fading into some layers of Rundle’s vocals and some instrumental noises, transitioning pretty sweetly into the following track.
“Recurrence,” albeit sweet, short and simple, doesn’t necessarily go anywhere all that interesting or different, as it follows a pretty straightforward, decently stale riff and songwriting process that doesn’t even really feature Rundle. Although a good buffer, perhaps the song should’ve just been saved for the next Thou record, or as a feature track on a new Emma Ruth Rundle release, if anything.
And here’s where some will divide. On “Hollywood,” a Cranberries cover, Rundle pays tribute to the late, great vocalist Dolores O’Riordan in the only way that Thou and ERR truly can. Bookended by crushing, drop-tuned, diatonic chugging riffs, straight to the point drumming and a droning guitar volume swell, ERR rips through the verses until backed up by the full band on the chorus. Some punching syncopated hits and Funck’s iconic harsh vocals enter on the hook before turning the spotlight back to Emma Ruth Rundle and back again, handing off the melody until the song concludes. It’s pretty sugar-coated when writing and analyzing the structure. But the song is pretty basic, albeit for a good reason, as the band aren’t covering some epic prog magnum opus, nor are they stringently sticking to the original song’s aesthetic. Yet the cover version honestly comes off as bland, probably being the one song that truly shouldn’t have been realized on a full-length LP, let alone an EP of songs definitely well worth their salt.
Even with or without the concluding fourth track, be it a Cranberries cover, or a perfect wrap-up to the album, The Helm of Sorrow is for sure not a bad mini-selection of four tracks that didn’t make the final cut for the full-length May Our Chamber Be Full (2020). Do not come in expecting some grainy, Voice Memos demo rips, as these songs are fully developed, produced and genuinely could’ve made or even been saved for the following album (maybe, hopefully, who knows?), and even though not without their faults, The Helm of Sorrow remains a solid, short EP.