Emma Ruth Rundle‘s last album, Marked for Death, was a sonic and emotional catharsis that continues to tremble walls and souls. It is Rundle’s masterpiece and one of the great records of not just 2016 but this decade. Trying to follow up a generational LP is a challenging endeavor that many before have fallen short, but Rundle matches MfD‘s fervor and intensity on the equally foreboding yet devastatingly beautiful On Dark Horses.

Rundle’s second masterpiece continues where her first left off. It is filled with emotions, brilliant stories, and gripping, jaw-dropping soundscapes. Feelings of despair and lost are transformed into a sense of perpetual confusion on the piercing “Fever Dreams”. A desert mysticism envelops around “Control”, on which Rundle reveals the battle raging inside her. The tale of two wandering sisters trying to overcome a traumatic event is told on the stark but stunning “Darkhorse”. Through her gripping vocals, Rundle immediately utters, “Run little sister run so fast, I see he’s gaining on you”.

The more solemn “Races” offers a slight reprieve from the bone-jarring, Gothic rockers, but it still is bone-chilling. The slow-building epic, “Dead Set Eyes”, features multiple, seismic, guitar blasts, which provide the perfect canvas for Rundle’s aching story of a woman who feels like “just a slave to a taker, to a man, to a need”. Rundle gets political on the stunning “Apathy on the Indiana Border”. She recalls the families ripped apart as ICE agents implemented a no-questions policy of arresting illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, the tranquil and emotional closer “You Don’t Have to Cry” memorializes the young people whose lives were taken too soon because they were different.

Rundle, too, is different. Her art is bold, bleak, brooding, devastating, and gorgeous. More importantly, she gives us strength to overcome the darkness that we inevitably encounter. She reminds us that we are the dark horses – wild, free, and beautiful.

On Dark Horses is out now via Sargent House and available on Bandcamp

To review the first 25 of our Favorite Albums of 2018, click here.

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