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Emma Ruth Rundle - Engine Of Hell review




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Band: Emma Ruth Rundle
Album: Engine Of Hell
Release date: November 2021


01. Return
02. Blooms Of Oblivion
03. Body
04. The Company
05. Dancing Man
06. Razor's Edge
07. Citadel
08. In My Afterlife


The world is in a pretty rough place. We're still figuring things out. Emma Ruth Rundle ditched her electric guitar.

I've been a fan of Emma Ruth Rundle for some time now. I don't wanna go too much into fanboy territories, but let's just say I'm somewhat at an age (and it's surely not just age, but also having to constantly keep up with new releases for the work that I do here) where I enjoy a lot of music, but a lot of it doesn't stick that long with me the same way that music I listened to when I was a teenager did. It's not as grave as I'm making it out to be, but there's a distance between the music I listen to and the music I genuinely feel like it has a place in me. So for the longest time I was ok with the idea, I thought that's it, my favorites are in place. And then Marked For Death proved me wrong. It's that rare that an album really becomes the kind of thing where you love every song, every line, every moment.

Ok, this is not a review of Marked For Death. And even by the time I reviewed that album's follow-up, On Dark Horses, I wasn't as big of a fan as I am now. But I was still taken aback when the first single from this album dropped, namely "Return". Other than the timbre of her voice in certain moments, I could close my eyes and convince myself this was some other singer/songwriter. This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it, but that I didn't expect it to be so unrecognizably her. Most artists would love the chance to have each of their songs sound instantly recognizable, and yet, here this was. It didn't feel like her, or most of what attracted me to her music in the first place, and yet I kept coming back. And then I got the promo. And even as I'm writing this, I'm still not done processing the whole thing.

It's not usual to write a review of a singer/songwriter album on the front page of a metal site. We have a separate feature for that. Usually if a singer/songwriter album does get reviewed, it's from someone with a metal alumni. Emma Ruth Rundle's music was heavier in her bands like Red Sparowes or Marriages, and even her solo stuff had a bit of a heavier edge, but most of it was because of her creative way of playing the electric guitar and creating textures with it. Her debut album is all about that, and On Dark Horses, being more of a band album, had even more electric guitar. And then she collaborated with Thou, which was the heaviest she'd ever gotten. So to follow that with an album that strips the electric guitar completely, it's... uhh... something.

Granted, a stripped-back album always seemed around the corner. All that heavy stuff was when people could meet. I saw the band set and the Thou collab set at Roadburn. A bit harder for people to meet nowadays. Loneliness does breed introspection. And recollection. Emma hadn't played the piano in a long while. Perhaps now was the right time. Engine Of Hell is, obviously, a pretty lonely and introspective album. It isn't like the guitar playing was the only thing that was great about Emma's music. A big reason why I loved Marked For Death so much was the lyricism, and an album this stripped-back forces you to take the lyricism into account. But if anyone knows me, you know that I'm really out of my element in that regard. Please let me talk about the suave playing and the string overdubs, but don't make me talk about lyrics.

I feel like I'd be betraying some secrets. Right now only the lyrics for the two promo songs are available, and with the album being so intimate, it feels like listening to it, and then talking about it's lyrics would feel like talking about a friend behind their back. I don't wanna overdo the parasocial aspect of this too much, but when I interviewed Emma before everything turned to shit, I made a point that her music sounded happier. To put it mildly, I don't really feel that's the case anymore. Even if most of the album is introspection about childhood, the present still lingers heavily.

Even for such a stripped-back album that mostly has piano and acoustic guitar and vocals, there are some minimal string overdubs that create a pretty elegant chamber atmosphere at times, plus the backing vocals echoing the chorus in "Body" is one of the most poignant moments in the album. There are some acoustic guitar melodies that betray the fact that Emma is a more creative guitar player than the rest of the album leads on. But even so, the recording quality and the way the sound is sculptured makes this a very intimate listen. Where you can almost hear every breath, every strum, every pressing of the keys, not merely the musical sounds that result. And with such a starkly sparse and lowkey album, even compared to some of her more folkish stuff from her previous albums, it puts a lot of pressure on the vocals to lift some of the weight. So part of the reason why "Return" was such a huge surprise wasn't just the change in soundscape, but because I never heard Emma's vocals being this fragile.

I feel like it's tough for me to even attempt to look at Engine Of Hell objectively as a piece of music. Listening to it feels so voyeuristic, and even if it's not the most heartbreaking thing out there, I can't help but not feel "entertained" in the usual way that music does. I feel like if I went in without any a priori knowledge and attachment, I'd find it a pretty fine singer/songwriter record. But that wouldn't be honest.



This has been yours' truly's 500th review.





Written on 03.11.2021 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments

Comments: 17   Visited by: 117 users
03.11.2021 - 17:42
bleak

"It's not as grave as I'm making it out to be, but there's a distance between the music I listen to and the music I genuinely feel like it has a place in me.".
On point.
Been waiting for this one!
Awesome review!
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03.11.2021 - 19:15
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Congratulations on hitting 500 reviews. Next top: overtaking Jeff. MS would be up a paddle without a creek if you weren't around.

This is a hell of a way to mark that milestone, too. This is one of those pieces of writing that demonstrates how reviewing is in its own way another act of artistic creation. It's one of your best, easily.

I've always been aware of Emma Ruth Rundle in the background and I've casually enjoyed her albums once or twice when it comes time to do the yearly retrospective; that's about the extent of my involvement with her music, so I will undoubtedly find Engine of Hell "a pretty fine singer/songwriter record." I think I can empathize with the feelings you are communicating, however, and damned if I'm not impressed by how well you've managed to capture a lot of rough emotions in a few paragraphs. This review is probably heavier than the album itself. Even if my experience with the album will be a lot different, I think that you have successfully conveyed what your experience has been, and it's well worth reading.

And I, too, want to highlight this line: "there's a distance between the music I listen to and the music I genuinely feel like it has a place in me." You're a lot more prolific than me, but I think we run in the same tracks as far as our listening habits/responsibilities are concerned, and it's such a different feeling when something truly sticks with me now than it used to be when I still had everything to learn.
----
"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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03.11.2021 - 19:35
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15

Congratulations on hitting 500 reviews. Next top: overtaking Jeff. MS would be up a paddle without a creek if you weren't around.

This is a hell of a way to mark that milestone, too. This is one of those pieces of writing that demonstrates how reviewing is in its own way another act of artistic creation. It's one of your best, easily.




I think radu kan do it, not this year , but maybe to end of next year he might get 2000 .... but then Jeff comes back and publish 1000 new written revievs ....
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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03.11.2021 - 19:40
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
To me such artists as Emma, Chelsea , even Ammerlie Brunn, somehow in early days can deliver good music, later somehow influences takes over and all is ruined, I did like her adn CW in beginning, latest albums are disapoinment
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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03.11.2021 - 19:43
MetalManic

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15
It's one of your best, easily.


...and an intimate review. Thank you.
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MetalManic
www.MetalManic.com
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04.11.2021 - 14:13
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15

Congratulations on hitting 500 reviews. Next top: overtaking Jeff. MS would be up a paddle without a creek if you weren't around.

Thanks! I checked and I have to take over Undercraft's 688 reviews first.

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15

This is a hell of a way to mark that milestone, too. This is one of those pieces of writing that demonstrates how reviewing is in its own way another act of artistic creation. It's one of your best, easily.

Also thanks! Not sure how much I agree with the sentiment. I do feel that sometimes a lot of the reviews I write are just finding some new buzzwords for the music or just trying to state what genres the band blends in. I do also fear, in the opposite direction, that I might make a review too much about me. The truth is that I still don't feel like I have any idea about what I want from a review, nor what others would want from mine. But if I had to choose, this would be my favorite of my reviews.

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15

I've always been aware of Emma Ruth Rundle in the background and I've casually enjoyed her albums once or twice when it comes time to do the yearly retrospective; that's about the extent of my involvement with her music, so I will undoubtedly find Engine of Hell "a pretty fine singer/songwriter record." I think I can empathize with the feelings you are communicating, however, and damned if I'm not impressed by how well you've managed to capture a lot of rough emotions in a few paragraphs. This review is probably heavier than the album itself. Even if my experience with the album will be a lot different, I think that you have successfully conveyed what your experience has been, and it's well worth reading.

I don't think you need to listen to more than 10 seconds into the intro of "Run Forever" to see why I say that she has a mastery over textures and melodies. The lyrics of "Protection" are probably the most heavy hitting, but it's the way it washes you in guitars right after the chorus that is one of the most cathartic musical moments I've felt. And "Light Song" is probably the comfiest song I know.

Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 03.11.2021 at 19:15

And I, too, want to highlight this line: "there's a distance between the music I listen to and the music I genuinely feel like it has a place in me." You're a lot more prolific than me, but I think we run in the same tracks as far as our listening habits/responsibilities are concerned, and it's such a different feeling when something truly sticks with me now than it used to be when I still had everything to learn.

I'm just gonna say it. There's too much music being made. And the even worse part is that most of it is good. So it's even harder to pick out the really great stuff. I don't need any other OSDM, melodeath, blackened thrash, sympho power or stoner rock (for example) album in my life and I wouldn't mind if none was made henceforth. But I still enjoy pretty much most of what I listen to in those genres.

So how the fuck am I supposed to have a healthy listening habit when every Friday a dozen albums are released, each pretty worthwhile, and each of them feeling like something I feel compelled to review. And by the time I'm done picking something to review, reviewing it, another batch comes. And that's just the metal albums. And just the new releases.

If you wanna start a new band, don't.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?


2021 goodies
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04.11.2021 - 22:31
Starvynth
i c deaf people
Written by RaduP on 04.11.2021 at 14:13

I'm just gonna say it. There's too much music being made. And the even worse part is that most of it is good. So it's even harder to pick out the really great stuff. I don't need any other OSDM, melodeath, blackened thrash, sympho power or stoner rock (for example) album in my life and I wouldn't mind if none was made henceforth. But I still enjoy pretty much most of what I listen to in those genres.
So how the fuck am I supposed to have a healthy listening habit when every Friday a dozen albums are released, each pretty worthwhile, and each of them feeling like something I feel compelled to review. And by the time I'm done picking something to review, reviewing it, another batch comes. And that's just the metal albums. And just the new releases.

Man, this is crazy and it sounds like a real nightmare. But it explains why you seem to have such an incredibly broad musical taste. In my opinion, 95% of all new releases are garbage, and yet there's more than enough good new music to discover every week. If there were more, I'd probably go nuts from oversaturation and sensory overload. And I would be impoverished within a few months.

Congrats on your 0.5K! I'm glad you found an album by an artist you feel such a personal connection with to mark this milestone. And maybe that's also the answer to your question about what readers expect from your reviews. Because any review without a personal touch is just empty words loosely strung together.
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signatures = SPAM
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05.11.2021 - 00:56
nikarg
Mod
I am so happy you are here, Radu.

The only other person that I can imagine singing "Return" is Beth Gibbons. And I have no higher praise for a female singer.
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05.11.2021 - 15:19
MarlKarx

This album is just devastating, in such a good way. She's one of my last favorite bands/artists that I've yet to be able to catch live. Would be super interesting to see her do this stripped down approach to some of her older material too. I love the band element but it would be a cool one-off thing.
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06.11.2021 - 00:00
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Update: two minutes in and I've decided to buy this on Bandcamp. Thanks for such a convincing review.
----
"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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06.11.2021 - 12:21
TenebrisAlas

Congrats Radu, keep it up ! i will check the album just because of the review...
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07.11.2021 - 09:27
TenebrisAlas

Hm, i did listen to it, and found it very intimate, at times reminding me of the first albums of Tori Amos.... mood dependent..as hell.
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07.11.2021 - 09:42
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by TenebrisAlas on 07.11.2021 at 09:27

Hm, i did listen to it, and found it very intimate, at times reminding me of the first albums of Tori Amos.... mood dependent..as hell.

Those were quoted as a direct influence, if I remember correctly, which probably means I should listen to them.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?


2021 goodies
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07.11.2021 - 09:47
TenebrisAlas

Please do so, and let me know if u liked them.
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07.11.2021 - 19:11
musclassia

Written by RaduP on 07.11.2021 at 09:42

Written by TenebrisAlas on 07.11.2021 at 09:27

Hm, i did listen to it, and found it very intimate, at times reminding me of the first albums of Tori Amos.... mood dependent..as hell.

Those were quoted as a direct influence, if I remember correctly, which probably means I should listen to them.


how have you not listened to Tori Amos, you've listened to everything
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07.11.2021 - 19:29
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by musclassia on 07.11.2021 at 19:11

how have you not listened to Tori Amos, you've listened to everything

Some gaps do remain, I just keep them secret
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?


2021 goodies
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09.11.2021 - 07:36
IronAngel

Written by RaduP on 07.11.2021 at 09:42

Those were quoted as a direct influence, if I remember correctly, which probably means I should listen to them.


The first four albums are pretty much as good as singer-songwriter stuff gets. The debut is the typical recommendation, Boys for Pele is maybe the magnum opus, but I'd actually recommend starting with From the Choirgirl Hotel. It's her most balanced album, and has the sort of sleek, cool darkness that has crossover appeal. (That said, the few bits that remind me of Tori on Engline of Hell are mostly the vocal melodies on Return and Dancing Man, and you'll find them on any of the early albums. The Body is also a clear tribute.)
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