Emma Ruth Rundle – Orpheus Looking Back (Sargent House)
On the back of 2021’s exceptional Engine of Hell release, melancholic song-writer extraordinaire Emma Ruth Rundle cannot resist but cast one last longing look over her shoulder at the material prepared, written, and relating to that period, which included the break-up of a significant relationship – the subject of her previous, delicate, powerful full-length.
Consisting of three songs, each different in sound and style that didn’t completely fit with the dynamic of Engine…, Orpheus Looking Back nonetheless brings beauty in its wistful minimalism. ‘Gilded Cage’ is a strummed acoustic piece, ‘Pump Organ Song’ a spontaneous creation during the recording sessions on, well, a pump organ, while ‘St. Non’ is a breathy, guitar / vocal reflection.
While the format is less immersive than the previous full-length, Orpheus… is further example of Rundle’s class as a song-writer and ability to transfer emotion to bare music.
7 / 10
Emily Jane White – Alluvion (Talitres)
Taking a fuller approach to production, singer-songwriter Emily Jane White is reflecting on loss, grief and the impact of recent events on Alluvion, her downbeat and reflective sixth album.
Coaxing a gothic beauty to the underlying synths and minimal instrumentation, there is something of a gentle electro-pop feel to tracks like ‘Show Me The War’ and ‘The Hands Above Me’, a song that introduces subtle guitar peals and swells, and a hint of folk and shoegaze – as does the cello-backed ‘I Spent The Years Frozen’. ‘Mute Swan’ mixes in a repetitive eighties synth refrain with a comforting and underplayed vocal, and the standout track ‘Heresy’ is an ominous and effective duet with Darkher, with sparse chants recalling elements of Chelsea Wolfe.
There is plenty of scope in this reflective offering, as White’s intimate and open tones sit softly over the lush arrangements of multi-instrumentalist Anton Patzner and offer not just escape but hope amongst the darkness of our current situations.
7 / 10
Eight Bells – Legacy of Ruin (Prophecy Productions)
Patience is indeed a virtue, and good things doth verily come to those who are prepared to take their time dwelling in anticipation. It may be six years (and an overhaul of the supporting cast) since the last Eight Bells release, but the progressive, introspective vehicle of Melynda Jackson (guitars, vocals) is all the better for it. The addition of Cormorant’s Matt Solis works as a perfect counterfoil, either with harsh blackened backing vocals, or when chanting in unison with Jackson’s haunting, melancholic intonations. Solis also pops up in the spaces with as some interesting meandering bass runs, working intuitively with the atmospheres that Jackson creates.
This request for patience bears out in the individual tracks, too. Opener ‘Destroyer’ walks us through hints of progressive metal, psych, sludgy tones and touches of blackened cascades, before using a sparse guitar refrain to take us home and into the doomier, eleven-minute sprawl of ‘The Well’. Dynamically as a whole, this is further played out with the mid-album conjoined dreamy pair of ‘Torpid Dreamer’ and ‘Nadir’ combining and paying off; the former dark and doomed, with the latter bringing us through a moment of reflection to peace with its integrated dual vocals, at times reminiscent of a heavier Fleet Foxes – a feeling which is continued into ‘The Crone’, before the blackened elements of the Portland natives arsenal are unleashed.
And all of this is with the hulking presence of standout track, and album closer, ‘Premonition’ still to come; a summation of all the previous parts. Tremolo refrains scythe under a merging of howls and chants, before things settle, breathe and expand into a stately, melancholic close to moody, yet welcoming album.
8 / 10
Hangman’s Chair – A Loner (Nuclear Blast)
Tags and sub-genres, when misapplied, can be quite detrimental at times to bands. Not only are they misleading and mis-set expectations but can lead to people who would embrace and celebrate an act missing out on something that would be a perfect addition to their collection. France’s Hangman’s Chair have been labelled as Stoner and / or Doom (which in itself has a couple of different applications), yet there is nothing Desert or Weed-based here, as their sixth album A Loner continues the evolution and progression of their sound, and is a gorgeously reflective album of downbeat, shimmering Downer alternative rock, laced with moments of shoegaze.
Where there is anything sludgy, it is in some of the Stephen Carpenter / Deftones style looping, rolling low-slung supporting guitar moments, such as on ‘Cold and Distant’, a track that demonstrates Hangman’s Chair have a neat line in understated chorus, too, as does ‘Second Wind’. Moreover songs such as with the aptly titled ‘Supreme’, underline a Type O Negative influence that runs throughout, building in Life of Agony melodies and moments. Cédric Toufouti deals in layered vocals and lines of harmonies to support a voice that sits perfectly floating on top of the cinematic music, at times (‘Who Wants To Die Old’) reminiscent of Kristoffer Rygg.
Atmospheric and considered, the pairing of ‘Pariah & The Plague’ – a beautiful, layered non-vocal piece of music with tinkling guitar effects and brooding electronics – and the melancholy title track sum up the strengths of this unsung album.
8 / 10