On paper, a collaborative album by a singer-songwriter and a sludge metal band seems unusual. To those in the know, however, it makes complete, perfect sense. Neither featured act on May Our Chambers Be Full are strangers to collaboration; Emma Ruth Rundle has been a member of experimental bands the Nocturnes, Red Sparowes and Marriages, and provided backing vocals on Thrice’s 2018 album Palms, while Thou have released a litany of split 7” and EPs with various peers, and in 2015 released You, Whom I Have Always Hated a collaborative full-length album with fellow doom merchants, The Body. More to the point is the distinct flavour of folk Rundle has been known to concoct in her solo work, taking all she has learned from Kate Bush, David Lynch, ambient music, post-rock, doom metal and dark wave to create something entirely new and potent.
Both Rundle and Thou are respected in separate but sometimes overlapping circles for the quality and quantity of their respective outputs, so it makes sense that their paths would have crossed last spring at Roadburn Festival, where they joined forces for a specially commissioned collaborative performance. So overwhelming was the result that it has grown legs and morphed into the 37-minute long, seven track epic we have here.
Rather than simply being a sludge/doom album with a new voice lent to it, May Our Chambers Be Full takes cues from ‘90s alternative rock and, while reflective of the gloomy, artful disposition of its creators, is not monochromatic. There are elements of grunge throughout (Thou released a compilation of Nirvana covers entitled Blessings of the Highest Order earlier this year), twisting the soft-loud dynamic into something simultaneously smothering and spacious, strengthened by four guitars all offering a different shade of colour.
Opening track ‘Killing Floor’ fades in dreamily with Rundle’s affecting vocals supported by ear-piercing screams courtesy Thou’s Bryan Funck, as if offering parallel perspectives on the same dreamscape. Far removed from Thou’s usual devastation and monolithic riffage, it’s a rare balance between beauty and brutality. Here, riffs swell and burst to soak listeners in something heavy, yet vulnerable. The melodiousness draws you in before giving way to an arresting cacophony, Bryan’s throat-ruining shrieks powerful enough to break glass.
A combination of songs that don’t quite reach the four minute mark drive the record forward. Thou’s KC Stafford assumes lead vocal duty on the thunderous ‘Monolith’, while Funck’s screams match the converging guitars on ‘Out of Existence’ before Rundle re-emerges, allowing the duality that makes the record so compelling to shine through once more. ‘Ancestral Recall’ provides one of the album’s highlights in its breathtaking despair.
This may all sound overwhelming, but May Our Chambers Be Full is surprisingly infectious. The warped riffs, vocal interplay and overall atmosphere are a testament to the artistry of the record’s creators. The album was meticulously crafted in marathon studio sessions across the United States and it shows, the singular vision is realised in full.
There is no place here for conventional song-structure. Accessible arrangements are abandoned in favour of emotional purging. ‘Magickal Cost’ teases a breakdown for ages, incorporating crystalline guitar noodlings before a tidal wave of doom laden guitars comes crashing down.
The vocal team of Rundle and Funck pulls this album from out of the depths, delivering killer hooks and lifting the hypnotic dissonance of ‘Into Being’ to something revelatory while their tandem assault on nine-minute closer ‘The Valley’, and the emotional charge that comes with it is chill-inducing even long after the last resounding notes fade back into the darkness. That is, until you listen all over again. Danny Kilmartin