by Erin Bensinger (@_babybluet)
2016’s Marked for Death was hard to follow, and Emma Ruth Rundle certainly rose to the challenge with her latest solo record, On Dark Horses. Out on Sargent House, the album is lyrically lighter and musically heavier than its predecessor, concerning itself with themes and symbols of racing, running, and the freedom of wide open spaces.
“Fever Dreams,” the first track, starts out the album strong. It wastes no time at all, bursting forth immediately with a drum hit and Rundle’s smooth, warbling voice exclaiming “Fear, a feeling, is it real?” The chorus doubles down on the building force, introducing a swell of fuzzed-out guitars and dramatic cymbal hits as Rundle begs for release from her fever dreams. The track takes on an almost optimistic tone toward the end; feedback and shimmering reverb swirl together in a way that feels weightless rather than plummeting, as if release truly is a possibility.
On the whole, On Dark Horses is everything fans have come to expect from Rundle’s music: it’s gothic, introspective, and dances pirouettes over the line between metal and post-rock. Nearly every other track is a standout. “Control” begins with a light and airy guitar melody and ends with a distinctly hardcore-influenced combo of heavy, distorted guitars and shouted vocals; later, ”Races” pairs a trudging bassline and beat with a call-and-repeat melody created by Rundle’s voice and an almost country-tinged guitar.
The crown jewel of the record is “Light Song,” which, sonically speaking, is anything but. Perhaps the most metal track Rundle has released in years, “Light Song” is a marching, droning meditation on the lightness of love. Rundle’s breathy, echoing vocals are underscored by the low, growling accompaniment of her husband, Evan Patterson of Jaye Jayle, on lines like “Wade out in the water now with you my love / there’s nothing like the feel of it and you.” The ease with which Rundle is able to hold it all — the dark sound and the light sentiment — at the same time is stunning. Rundle’s musical and emotional growth since writing bleak, desolate tracks like “Marked for Death” and “Hand of God” couldn’t be more apparent.