If shoegazing doomsters did acoustic folk.
‘Engine of Hell’ is in many ways Emma Ruth Rundle’s most bare and vulnerable album to date. It’s a huge departure instrumentally and stylistically from her previous dark doom rock of old yet it haunts in an entirely new way. This is what happens when a doom rocker turns off the reverb.
Emma Ruth Rundle switches gears for the album by making it almost entirely acoustically. It might be with a piano, an acoustic guitar or a violin but that’s it. It removes the raging noise of the electric guitars and swampy drums and exposes bare dark motifs and Emma’s voice. What I found most interesting is that Emma didn’t really change her songwriting style for this approach at all. Traditionally, her songs are plods of strong dark chords, mini embellishments and a long tail of noise and vocal growls that covers her tracks. With no noise, I expected things to be written differently but it’s still pensive chord sways and violin twirls.
This will bring two schools of thought. With the laid bare approach, Emma’s voice is able to convey layers of emotional pain, reflection, regret and chagrin with stunning detail. Her voice carries so much of the album because it cracks, frays and spills out over the cracks. It does mean that you might not really catch the melodies strongly or feel like the tracks are a little too introspective. Tracks like ‘Razor’s Edge’ are stunning on their own as they tinkle and whisper intimately in your ears. ‘Citadel’ has a gypsy psyche-folk breeze to the sliding notes. Piano based ‘Return’ and ‘In My Afterlife’ are very minimalistic with their soft and subtle chords. They hold a very downcast and dark space but one that doesn’t reach a catharsis of sorts. I’m used to Rundle’s music having a climactic release that often comes from the production soaring ahead into a frenzy of chords and noise. Here, the tracks feel comfortably numb.
‘Engine of Hell’ is a beautiful album. Aside from ‘Blooms of Oblivion’, the tracks often stay at a certain level of emotion though and so I’ve found myself alternating between a track from ‘Engine of Hell’ and one from another of Emma’s albums. It may sound a little odd but I found that allowed me to appreciate the post-storm downcast ruins of this album so much more because I had that peak and trough to the music. If you love dark and broody acoustic folk, this may not be a problem for you. I was coming in as a huge fan of Emma Ruth Rundle’s approach to sound design so it took me a while to appreciate what was going on here. ‘Engines of Hell’ is a maximal minimalist approach. It will make you feel uncomfortable to sit with it at times and that’s the point. it is beautifully haunted, just know you might want to pepper the songs around her other albums if you find yourself getting a little fidgety as a heavy rocker. I think you’ll ultimately click with it though, the pain runs deeper still here.
Recommended track: Blooms of Oblivion
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