Home Music album Album review: Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell

Album review: Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell

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Album review: Emma Ruth Rundle - Engine of Hell

A visceral and raw mediation on the trauma

A journey of sobriety. A divorce. A move from Kentucky to the West Coast. These are just a few of the things Emma Ruth Rundle went through when recording her last outing, Hell engine. She obviously isn’t kidding when she call the registration process an “emotional journey … an upheaval of [her] life, [her] way of life.”

Hell engine marks a new bare direction for Rundle, who released a dense, muddy mud collaborative project with the catastrophic metal group Thou last year. This record is quite the opposite: a calm and isolated collection of poems set to music with only piano, an acoustic guitar and an occasional violin. For an album largely focused on the singer’s trauma, that certainly seems appropriate.

Gross production (or “anti-production”, as Rundle calls it) is the album’s biggest print run and the driving force behind its sense of intimacy and catharsis. Her voice sounds incredibly crisp as if you’re there in the room with her, and every excruciating little detail is allowed to bubble to the surface – her brief breaths, her fingers sliding across the strings of the guitar, the vibe of the studio.

It’s hard to limit yourself to a few key moments, but a good place to start would be the very beginning of the opening track, “Return,” when a rich, sonorous piano chord rings out and barely attracts attention. a second in the album. The next track, “Blooms of Oblivion”, continues with the high pitched sound of the guitar strings buzzing and a noticeable quivering in Rundle’s voice. Later on, on “Citadel”, her powerful strumming and quick chord changes sound so textured they’ll have you tingle at your fingertips as if you can feel the strings of the guitar with it.

Details like these are in fact painful sometimes, serving as sonic reminders of the relentless trauma that Rundle sings about – the auditory equivalent of a scab that doesn’t heal, stinging every now and then just to remind you that it’s still there. His production helps achieve that effect even more than his lyrics, which, while not bad at all, are sometimes so cryptic as to risk undermining viscerality.

Lines like “your ribbon cut from all fates / and a hellhound seeking alms” or “Balancing in scents, anointed in blue / Orphans can smile for an afternoon” are admirable. (you have to like the alliteration in the old one), but they are also too flowery to signify rawness. Then again, even this works to the benefit of the album, by contextualizing and giving extra weight to the harsher lyrics, which are used sparingly, such as “at the methadone clinic we waited” and ” we move the body now ”, which refers to the death of a family member as a child.

Rundle is open on the precedence of his words took precedence over the music during the recording process. “The value of songs is the lyrics, the content and the emotion,” she said. “The instrumentation should only be there to support this and not get in the way.” It may sound unappealing to some, but the album rewards repeated listening with melodies that eventually come out of calm. The biggest earworm is “Razor’s Edge,” a major-key scintillating acoustic guitar song hooked by a fragile vocal melody sung entirely in a near-whisper.

Hell engine is a visceral mediation of trauma with elaborate lyrics, sparse instrumentation and some of the best productions of the year, effectively creating a dark, secluded atmosphere that feels both distant and immediate. And before you assume that Rundle spends the entire 40 minutes of execution feeling sorry for himself, unable to put his pain behind it, take note of the last line of the album: “And now we’re free.”


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