Landing just three months after their initial collaboration ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’, ‘The Helm Of Sorrow’ is here to feed the addictions of the Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou faithful. It might be only an EP, but it provides as potent a hit as any full-length release you’ll hear this year.
‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ was an unqualified success, a perfect aesthetic synchronisation of two of the most intriguing and creative acts working in the heavy underground today. Thou are an idiosyncratic sludge delight, Emma Ruth Rundle a captivating, ethereal wonder. Their sensibilities fused so effortlessly that it made you wonder why ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ took so long to come together in the first place.
‘The Helm Of Sorrow’ doesn’t quite possess the same gravitas as that brilliant album, however, by no means should it be ignored. Containing four tracks recorded during the ‘Chambers’ sessions, ones that obviously didn’t quite fit into that album’s track list, these songs are more linear and obfuscated. There’s less hooks, less tonal shifts, more ugliness. If ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ felt like trudging through a snowy tundra, then ‘The Helm Of Sorrow’ is a brief sojourn into a fiery underworld.
The balance between the two acts here is a little less meshed together, though still as evenly balanced. On the previous collaboration, it felt as though Thou were bringing the heaviness out of Rundle proportionally to the space and patience that she was allowing them. However, on ‘The Helm Of Sorrow’, the two central tracks feel like Thou‘s, the opener Rundle‘s, with the closer being the most effortlessly in sync.
Those two central tracks, ‘Crone Dance’ and ‘Recurrence’, still feature Rundle‘s lush vocals (‘Crone Dance’ features an excellent chorus section), but they aren’t strictly integral to its construction. Brian Funck‘s filthy, tortured howl takes centre stage and drives the songs through their downtuned riffs and unstoppable sense of momentum.
Closer ‘Hollywood’, a cover of the 1997 The Cranberries track, is easily the most likeable moment on ‘The Helm Of Sorrow’. Rundle brilliantly apes Dolores O’Riordan‘s vocals, even bringing a twinge of her Irish lilt to the relatively straightforward cover. It’s here that we see the real power of Thou and Rundle‘s collaboration. The ‘Hollywood’ cover is simple and unfussy, yet the two artists succeed in making it sound wholly their own, from the hushed, spacious verses to the pummelling choruses, it flows effortlessly between their differing sensibilities.
‘The Helm Of Sorrow’ manages to shed new light on this fantastic collaboration in enough different ways that means ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ more than manages to justify its own existence. The battle between Rundle‘s brooding patience and Thou‘s ferocious urgency makes for truly compelling listening, and we should all be praying that it continues long into the future.