If there have been any powerhouses that seem incapable of doing wrong in the universe of sludge metal in recent years, Baton Rouge stalwarts Thou definitely stand out more than any other band. Formed in 2005, they already have an impressive discography under their belt, with five studio releases and more recently, a series of EPs showcasing a softer, more melodic approach to their sound. The other thing they have done in the past is collaborative albums, specifically with drone doomers The Body. Unsurprisingly, both the Released From Love EP and the full-length, You, Whom I Have Always Hated, that they recorded with The Body were both superb. Now, however, they have collaborated with another artist, someone who, sonically, is as melodic and wistful as Thou are crushingly and devastatingly heavy. On this latest collaborative effort, May Our Chambers Be Full, Thou have teamed up with decorated Kentucky singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle.
Even though Emma Ruth Rundle’s music is sonically far removed from Thou’s crushingly heavy doom, in practice it turns out to be a match made in heaven, which is proven when listening to May Our Chambers Be Full. Adding an element of melody and atmosphere to Thou’s sound has been done before on the aforementioned Inconsolable and Rhea Sylvia EPs, however with the addition of Emma Ruth Rundle’s vocals adds a much more unique spin on this more melodic take. This is also compensated even more with the guitar work, which is far more atmospheric and influenced by post-rock than Thou’s previous EPs, and firmly solidifies that this is a true collaboration album rather than simply a Thou album with a feature vocalist. This fusion of styles is best shown by the two tracks that bookend this album; opening track 'Killing Floor' and closing track 'The Valley'. The layering of Rundle’s vocals on top of Bryan Funck’s tortured shrieks also adds a very unique dynamic to the record, creating a beauty and the beast type vocal approach. Whilst this is usually found in gothic metal bands in the form of death grunts with very operatic female cleans, the more black metal influenced harshes coupled with the wistful vocals Emma Ruth Rundle is known for feels far more fresh and certainly suits the music being played here.
If there is one thing that ties both these names together when it comes to influence, it is definitely the 90's alternative rock and grunge scenes, with Emma Ruth Rundle citing influences such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Thou having covered songs by Nirvana and Alice In Chains in the past. This influence shines through in May Our Chambers Be Full, which certainly wouldn’t be out of place if it had been played on Alternative Nation during the 1990s. However, this album is much more than just a 90's nostalgia throwback, as there isn’t really anything from that scene that this album really sounds like. The closest comparison that could be made is the second track 'Monolith', which sounds like what would happen if Alice In Chains decided to tune down even lower and invited Mike Williams from Eyehategod to do a guest vocal appearance. However, other than that, this album sounds extremely contemporary, even during the times when its influences are more noticeable.
Overall, May Our Chambers Be Full is another solid effort from Thou and also shows their versatility and ability to collaborate with a wide variety of artists from different musical backgrounds. Having Emma Ruth Rundle as the lead vocalist and including more atmospheric guitar passages allows the melodic tendencies that were first explored on Thou’s Rhea Sylvia and Inconsolable to really shine through, and the heavy sludge metal riffs and harsh vocals add a new dynamic to Emma Ruth Rundle’s sound that has not been previously explored on her solo material or her work with her band Marriages. This is an exciting collaborative effort that hopefully won’t be the only time this eclectic and talented group of musicians work together.