Engine of Death

Nov 16, 2021
Web Exclusive

By Andy Von Pip

Emma Ruth Rundle’s previous three studio albums—2014’s Some Heavy Ocean, 2016’s Marked for Death, and 2018’s On Dark Horses—established her as an uncompromising, unflinching, and visionary artist. Her work flickers and flares with a mysterious somber genius; her albums are always hauntingly beautiful and layered with moody, reverb-laden textures, which add an intensity and dark drama to her compositions. After embracing the noise during her collaboration with sludge metal band Thou on 2020’s May Our Chambers Be Full, Rundle goes for the polar opposite in terms of sonics on her latest album, Engine of Hell.

This is an album that’s as raw and exposed as an artist can be, often with only Rundle’s vocals and a piano or acoustic guitar filling the room. Her vulnerabilities are exposed as she leaves herself no space to hide. There are references to trauma, addiction, and treatment, and Rundle herself has stated that these are her most personal songs to date, and as such, she had no wish to sugar the pill with glitzy production and unnecessary embellishments. She explained in the press notes: “Here is me teetering on the very edge of sanity dipping my toe into the outer reaches of space and I’m taking you with me and it’s very fucked up and imperfect.”

Engine of Hell opens with the stunning “Return,” the ambiguous lyrics conveying an atmosphere rather than leading the listener by the hand. “Blooms of Oblivion” is quite simply an incredible song and the timbre and inflection in Rundle’s voice is enough to reduce you to tears, whilst “Razor’s Edge” sounds like a timeless classic that could be covered for many years to come. Rundle shares the same dark poetic DNA as Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave and has an innate ability to express a myriad of complex emotions with a few beautifully chosen phrases. The album closes with “In My Afterlife,” a song that, despite the ostensibly gloomy title, has an uplifting message as Rundle embraces positive change and potential redemption, whilst she edges forwards toward a future much transformed.

It’s not always easy to listen to, but if you have an appetite to be challenged, and choose to join Rundle on this journey of trauma, grief, and transformation, you will find it an incredibly moving and rather beautiful experience. This is the sound of an artist exploring and acknowledging all the flaws and fuck ups, the frailties, imperfections, and traumas that go hand in hand with what it is to be human. Declaring an artist to be touched with genius has been so overused to the extent that it has practically lost all meaning, but not so in Rundle’s case. Her music aches with humanity and it speaks for itself. (www.emmaruthrundle.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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