I am under the impression that the sludge giants from Thou need no introduction. They are a band that I am both well acquainted with and love immensely. I had never heard of Emma Ruth Rundle before this and I am thoroughly excited to have discovered her as her solo music seems right up my alley. With that caveat out the way, I must say that I am not hugely engaged by the collaborative release they put out recently. The album is sombre and atmospheric but even at its heaviest moments does not give me that metaphorical kick in the gut that I have always got from listening to Thou. There are fantastic moments of the release but I was left feeling moderately unexcited by the album as a whole.
The obvious assumption would be that I do not enjoy the album due to the ‘clean’ vocals and less heavier elements, and although I do think the male clean vocals heard on track two “Monolith” are pretty dreadful, I think Emma Ruth Rundle’s performance on the record might be the best thing about it. Her performance and tonal quality are sublime and I will without a doubt be spending some time getting to know her music better after this. I think my main issue with the album is that the songwriting feels boring, and to top it off, the guitar tones feel washed out and distant. I have tried with multiple speakers and headphone types and I can’t shake the feeling that the guitar is in the background of the mix, particularly the distorted tones.
Although my criticisms might give the impression that I did not enjoy May Our Chambers Be Full at all, that would be untrue. I did find the overall morose atmosphere of the album to be pleasing and I particularly liked both the vocal performance of Bryan Funck and Emma Ruth Rundle despite my lack of excitement for the album in general. I think this is a good time to break down some tracks and what exactly it is that does not sit well with me (as well as what did).
The first track “Killing Floor” begins with a beautiful swell of sound that gave me a hopeful first impression of the album to come, however, as the first riff is heard I am left with an insipid impression. The guitar tone is part of the problem but beyond that, I find the guitar writing to be flat and uninspired. The harmonic quality and progression of the track in general never feels to attain a climax, like a rollercoaster on a flat track. I am once again excited as the riff at 3:40 kicks in as it is meaty, disgusting, and dripping with doom, but as the guitar returns to the picked major harmony and vocals are introduced, I just feel that the parts do not blend and it ends up sounding more cacophonic than appealing. This section goes on for ages and although it may be the intention for the song to sound dissonant and off-putting, I have a feeling that it was not. The outro of the song is one of the best parts of the track and it helps me to reach some level of catharsis, but I am still left unsatisfied by this song in general.
The next track “Monolith” feels like a heavier version of Nirvana (with terrible vocals included), which should be no surprise as one of Thou’s recent releases was a full Nirvana cover album. I dislike almost everything about this song: the riff, the vocal melody, the texture… it all just feels off. There are a couple of moments I don’t despise, such as the tiny clean breaks heard in the middle of the song, and perhaps the outro doesn’t make my ears bleed, but I’m not sure if that is a compliment.
My criticisms of the last two tracks sum up most of my dislikes of the album. The writing, combined with the texture of the music and the harmonic choices just never seem to blend well and form a cohesive musical whole. As I keep pointing out there are parts in each track that I can appreciate but they come too few and far in between and are often bookmarked by completely unenjoyable ones.
There were two tracks on the album that I did enjoy a fair bit so I would like to mention those now. “Magickal Cost”: the guitar part that opens this song is wistful and pleasantly reminds me of the band Earth. The melody sung by Rundle is dreamy and peaceful, and the ambient quality of the song is calming and gratifying. The heavy guitar part that comes in after the lull is probably one of the most exciting on the entire release; it hits like a truck of bricks that appears out of the mist, and also maintains some of the mystery of the previous section through the use of effect drenched leads. The following section, post-rock with blast beast section, is also outstanding and I wish we heard more sections like it.
The final track on the album “The Valley” starts off with another brooding and moody intro. The volume swelling guitar parts are like whispers disappearing in the evening wind, the guitar, and what sounds like violin add beautiful texture to the soundscape, and before long, Rundle performs one of the most memorable vocal lines of the album. As much as I didn’t like certain aspects of this album, this track might make the whole album worth listening through. This song has that immersive and all-encompassing quality that I have been waiting for. It feels like a warm blanket wrapped around you in a cold wind. Sad and lost, but hopeful. The middle section is weird yet alluring and we hear a reprise of the unsettling string sound from earlier. The end section of the song is phenomenal and the perfect cadence to this slow burn of a track. The dynamics in this track are also part of what pulls me in; it starts so unassumingly and builds to something not necessarily complicated but moving. Where a lot of my problems lie with the other tracks is that there is too much going on and a lot of what is happening does not blend nicely, at least to my ears.
I know some people may not agree with my overall assessment of May Our Chambers Be Full and I want to make it clear that I in no way think this album is a bad album; it just hasn’t really clicked with me even over multiple listens. I will continue to follow Thou’s music religiously. To end on a positive note: although I have not been a huge fan of some of their recent releases, I still think Heathen might be one of the best sludge metal albums to ever be released and they will always remain musical gods in my eyes. In addition, through this album I managed to discover Emma Ruth Rundle whose music I am excited to explore further.
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