Emma Ruth Rundle
Marked For Death
Burning through atmospheric ballads is Emma Ruth Rundle on Marked For Death, the second full length from the singer/songwriter. Known for her work in Marriages, the instrumentalist finds ways to create a multi-layered approach to writing that generally takes a few spins to really figure out. Much like her debut Some Heavy Ocean, Rundle makes use of her transformative presence to let each song breathe in a distinct way, producing another highly addictive transcendental release.
There’s a fresh wound in Marked For Death that lets the record offer more than surface level emotions, establishing a wounded sense of urgency that was not found on the previous LP. This exposes the listener to the items haunting Rundle; grief, death and a corrupted sense of self present themselves in this grim manner. At points across the record there is such audible agony it can be tough to find any of the beauty in the songwriting. But even enveloped by the depths of suffering, Rundle found a resiliency deep in her creative palette that found the grandeur in destruction and turned it into eight songs that rupture death’s embrace.
Emma Ruth Rundle took to the desert to write Marked For Death. Holed in nothing but her own loneliness, the singer captured her aura with booming atmospheres that take command through Rundle’s instrumental puppeteering. The base of her songs are rather simple, riding through chord progressions with distinctive melodies — all very neat. It’s the extra layerings that Rundle seems to have mastered that let the songs carry a forceful punch even on the edge of defeat. On “Protection,” Rundle cries out “I am worthless in your arms,” before unleashing a detonation of distorted guitars that deafens insecurity, halts devastation and shows Rundle’s knack for textural presence. “Hand Of God” is stripped down to Rundle, her guitar and a bit of drums but it still has the magnitude to sweep listeners into her impassioned embrace. Even more impressive is the vocal deliveries across the record. Each song features the singer’s unique amorphous delivery that has you questioning just how much of her voice she is using. Sure there are times she’s audibly louder, but she strings softer parts to her voice with such buoyancy there’s a plain of peace to fall in love with. She glides over the music on “Medusa,” acting as a vocal slide guitar, while on “Furious Angel” she’s a whisper embedded into the very fabric of the melody.
If it was only for her vocal presence the songs would not fill the entire room you hear them as well as they do. Rundle has an innate talent for creating strong dynamics within builds that strike the listener as their own narrative. “Heaven” starts off rather quiet, leaving Rundle in a swarming tenderness that gradually grows into an explosive climax — Rundle’s voice grows in power and the drums make more of a cacophonous pound behind the pulsating guitars. Multiple melodies flutter through the air before they are quickly pulled out of thin air and it is just Rundle’s vulnerability to end the roar.
But where Rundle really lets her heart try to piece itself back together is the closing track “Real Big Sky.” A song riddled with death’s embrace, it’s a gritty acoustic guitar that embodies the structure of a body about to pass through the planes of existence, with Rundle being the swan song to the other side. This song seems to be simultaneously the high and low point of Marked For Death. From such a low point this song’s howl focuses on a soaring intimacy — a song pulled from the ditch and dirt of the earth and cast into the sky. It’s the abject darkness that surrounds us, but “Real Big Sky” fascinatingly beautiful. There’s a beam of hope beyond that fits as the the emotional way to end Marked For Death, and hopefully move past that mark, leaving death as merely a thought in the blackness of existence