There are artists whose records immediately grab you, strangle your lungs, and cause your mind to go into near panic mode over the sheer transparency of their work. The late Jason Molina was an artist like that for me, someone who you trusted was putting every thought and emotion, no matter how scarring, in front of you to examine. There’s nothing left to imagination.
With her excellent third solo record “Marked for Death,” Emma Ruth Rundle is becoming one of those artists. The first time I spent with this record left me gasping, wondering what I’d just heard and if I could face it anymore. This is accomplished amid quiet, vulnerable folk, smearing rock, and Rundle’s raw, expressive voice that sounds as naked and vulnerable as ever on this record. The album is situated in darkness, self-doubt, defeat, and confusion. There is life and love irretrievably broken, and every word that comes out of Rundle’s mouth seems so vital and final, that you feel like she’s about to close the door on you, never to speak to you again. These are some of the best songs Rundle ever has created, and it’s unquestionably her best solo record.
While Rundle’s solo work might not seem a natural for a metal site, we beg to differ. She’s made impressive, penetrating noise with post-rock stompers Red Sparowes, stoned-out The Nocturnes, and with noisy rock band Marriages, whose last record “Salome” we reviewed, loved, and still listen to a lot to this day. This is her grimiest solo work, and while not always heavy musically, it certainly is lyrically. “Marked for Death,” as noted, is Rundle’s third record on her own, with her first being “Electric Guitar One,” an instrumental, ambient-based collection, and her second the excellent “Some Heavy Ocean,” one of the best records released that year. That should tell you something when we say this new one is her best work, because the bar was high, and she hurdled the shit out of it.
The record wastes no time going for the throat with the title cut, a song that creeps its way into the room, starting quietly and unassumingly before breaking open on the chorus, with Rundle morbidly poking, “Who else is going to love someone like you who’s marked for death?” Strings cut in, the mood is dark and vulnerable, and Rundle finishes up by asking, “Who else would ever stay?” “Protection” is blunt and something altogether different from her last record. Actually, there are a lot of songs like that here. Anyhow, drums encircle, while the music take on a noiry swoon, leading into the chorus and the thunderous guitar smear that emerges from there. “I am worthless in your arms,” Rundle calls, while spacious, bloodletting playing fills up the room and your chest. “Medusa” unleashes dusty guitars and emits a Western moan, while other elements mix in and give it an autumnal chill. Later the song turns dreamy and hypnotic, later disappearing into numbness. “Hand of God” trickles in with acoustic guitars, as the song gets darkly moody, with Rundle directing, “Bring your sons and lay them down in front of me.” The fog keeps thickening and sweltering, with the track ending in a murky haze.
“Heaven” opens amid quiet guitars and hushed singing, with a simple kick drum poking holes over the chorus. Strings mix into the piece, as the noise levels rise and threaten before the tide pulls back and drags everything toward the sea. “So Come” has thorny guitars and verses that feel like they’re about to crack under the emotional weight. The chorus allows for the release, with Rundle leveling, “All these things come down, I wish they would not,” a line that will spin in your head over and over again. “Furious Angel,” while not the loudest track on the record, is the one that brings the most vengeance. Stormy guitars, an ominous ambiance, and Rundle demanding, “Rain death from above onto me,” provides both the hell fire and the brimstone and should leave any listener heaving. Rundle leaves the biggest crusher for last, a raw, noise-buzzed, completely emotionally exposed track “Real Big Sky,” smartly presented in its demo form. There’s no way not to be impacted by the song, as you can’t tell if she’s about to give way to death or if she’s observing another person’s fight. “I don’t want to be awake when it takes me,” she calls, making it seem like she’s begging on bloodied hands and knees. But she injects a bit of hope, adding, “I can’t wait to see you smile on the other side.” It might be the saddest song of the year, and it would be easy to imagine someone totally vulnerable to what’s going on here being rendered smothered, emitting wailing, uncontrollable tears.
Rundle has made the record of her life with “Marked for Death,” the most exposed, heart-bruised of her career. These are songs that should bring people to beg for mercy and they confront the same hurt and confusion Rundle did when writing these songs. She has gone from being a great artist to one you have to stop whatever you’re doing to hear. Rundle’s always been an excellent vessel for delivering pain, but now she’s entered a new level of power that could cripple weaker souls.
For more on the band, go here: http://emmaruthrundle.com/
To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/emma-ruth-rundle/products/marked-for-death-bundles
For more on the label, go here: http://sargenthouse.com/