Even before you’ve heard a note of Marsh Dweller‘s debut full-length, The Weight of Sunlight, there’s a good chance you’ll have it figured out. (And no, that’s not a slight against it.) The album depicts a blurry, snow-covered forest on its cover, and boasts guest appearances from members of Obsequiae and Nechochwen. In one of his other projects, mastermind John Owen Kerr plays alongside none other than Panopticon’s Austin Lunn. Connect the dots, kids: you’re getting 40-odd minutes of melodic, folk-tinged black metal, and you’re going to like it. (And yes, that is a statement of fact. This thing’s quite good.)
You’d be forgiven for wincing a bit at the words “melodic, folk-tinged black metal” — there’s a lot of that stuff going around right now. Looking beyond the bands highlighted above, you’ve got stuff like Waldgeflüster, Saor, Falls of Rauros and dozens more. (And okay, among those, some might be rawer than others, some might be folkier, and some more atmospheric. I get it. Here’s a counterpoint: some apples are Fujis, some are Galas and some are Granny Smiths. What do they all have in common?)
In short, this scene’s not just having its moment; it’s getting pretty close to passing it by altogether. So it’s to Kerr’s credit that he’s been able to make his project stand out in the crowd. On Sunlight, he brings the kind of influences you’d expect from his contemporaries, but presents them in a different manner than most — and often a more accessible one.
On a track like “Empty Light of Heaven,” for example, Kerr leans lean on the atmospherics the way you might expect from, say, Ashbringer, but without dragging things out too long and losing your attention. Then, on the very next song, “Forks of the River,” he pulls the harmonized intro lick right out of the Obsequiae playbook, but works it into a dirtier, more aggressive package. In the grand scheme of things, these are only slight adjustments from the norm, but Kerr executes them all tastefully enough to keep things sounding fresh.
Speaking of sounding fresh, Kerr also breaks from genre norms by showing off a noticeable affinity for good, old fashioned heavy metal throughout Sunlight. Take “Where the Sky Ends,” for example — at a quick glance, it still seems to fit right within the folky black metal template you might expect. But listen more closely, and you’ll start to pick out harmonized riffs, galloped passages, and other little homages to the classics. Plus, the album’s brisk, digestible pacing — eight songs in 42 minutes — feels kind of retro in and of itself. (How lovely it’d be if more bands would record as though they still had only LP capacity to work with. Looking at you, Maiden.)
Anyway, I’m getting away from the point, which is: check this thing out. If you’re into folky black metal, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re not, it still might be a good bet; Kerr’s done a nice job of tweaking the influences and making The Weight of Sunlight an accessible listen.
Keep it heavy,