Channelling a sound that is the polar opposite to 2020’s May Our Chambers Be Full, her collaborative album with sludge masters Thou, Engine Of Hell finds Emma Ruth Rundle stripping down her songcraft to its raw bare bones, delivering a collection of fragile and intimate songs that are among the most affecting she has written. Of the album, Rundle has stated “I really wanted to capture the imperfection and the vulnerability of my own humanity”, and by placing her voice and lyrics centre stage, she has done just that, delivering a collection of deeply personal and moving songs.
Forgoing electric guitar and any semblance of a band set up, Engine Of Hell finds Rundle accompanied by either acoustic guitar or sombre piano. Recalling PJ Harvey’s bewildering underappreciated White Chalk and Damien Rice‘s often forgotten 9, there’s a haunting intimacy present here that pierces the heart in ways heavier instrumentation simply cannot. The sensitive production also renders the album its confessional feel, picking up every squeaky chord change as Rundle’s fingers move around the guitar neck, every intake of breath as her delicate voice ebbs away to a whisper.
Opener ‘Return’ sets the tone perfectly. “A rich belief that no-one sees you” she croons over resonant piano chords, her voice a thing of breathtaking vulnerability, as if it could break at any moment. The heartbreaking ‘Body’ recalls early Tori Amos in both its sensitive piano melodies and bare-all lyrics, as Rundle, recalling a childhood memory of seeing a dead relative being carried away mourns “I’m still a little girl that needs you one more time / you said your arms were always around me”, the poignancy that comes from an adult comforting their traumatised childhood self. Other highlights include the moody, folk tinged campfire ballad ‘Citadel’, the gentle ‘Dancing Man’ and the celestial, transformative closer ‘In My Afterlife’, featuring an extraordinarily powerful vocal from Rundle, bolstered by rich piano chords, as she sings “Now I’m free drifting from Saturn’s debris / things cut and floating through a darkness that never seems to end”.
Engine Of Hell isn’t an album that will be blasting out of your speakers, it will be one you spin when alone, the lights dimmed, your guard down and your heart open. Rundle already has an impressive discography, but by stripping everything away and baring her soul, she has created an album of striking beauty and tenderness that is her most impressive so far.
Engine Of Hell is released via Sargent House on 5th November and can be purchased here.
Words: Adam Pegg