For many, the news that Southern Californian dark folk singer Emma Ruth Rundle would be releasing a collaborative album with Baton Rouge sludge metal veterans Thou last year was a shock, as their styles can be seen as incongruous in many ways. As it turned out, ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ was one of last year’s most interesting and innovative metal albums, and the two sets of artists’ disparate styles complemented each other well. Rundle’s ethereal voice floated over Thou’s solid riffs and it sat well alongside the band’s other output that made them one of 2020’s most productive recording artists. ‘The Helm of Sorrow’ is an EP comprising four songs taken from the recording sessions for ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ and I’m happy to write that they are more enjoyable than some of the songs included on the album.
On opener ‘Orphan Limbs’, Rundle intones some gently dark, almost whispered vocals over a lone guitar before the whole band kicks in noisily and Thou frontman Bryan Funck joins her for some spirited death growls around the four-minute mark. ‘Crone Dance’ is generally a lot heavier and is opened by Funck’s guttural vocals, with Rundle’s more mellifluous vocals coming in later. The riffs provided by guitarists Andy Gibbs, Matthew Thudium, and KC Stafford really propel the song forward. The song concludes by having the band fade out as Rundle sings alone accompanied by her soothing, hypnotic acoustic guitar.
Funck’s death growls dominate ‘Recurrence’ and Rundle’s gentler vocal contributions only come in on the choruses, but their contrasting vocal styles complement each other excellently when the pair duet. The EP concludes with a barnstorming version of The Cranberries’ ‘Hollywood’ that showcases the talents of Thou’s three guitarists and allows Rundle’s vocal talents to shine through, Funck’s main contributions being guttural backing vocals for the song’s memorable choruses. Overall, ‘The Helm of Sorrow’ is an impressive suite of songs that leaves the listener wondering why they weren’t included on ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’. There’s a lot to enjoy here for existing fans of Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle, and it should also appeal to devotees of bands like Deafheaven, Nothing, Hum, and Wren. It is released via Sacred Bones on January 15th. Pre-order it here.