Marsh Dweller - The Weight of SunlightHaving recently relocated from South Carolina (a.k.a. The Land of Eternal Swampass), the name Marsh Dweller immediately piqued my interest when I saw it on our promo list. I always seem to find myself applying band and album names in stupidly personal ways, and a moniker like that reminded me of the long nighttime walks I used to take through a nearby salt marsh while listening to Baroness and picking my underwear out of my asscrack. Fortunately the music here is much more high-brow than that. Formed in 2012 as the solo project of Pittsburgh multi-instrumentalist John Kerr (also of NoltemSeidr, and Vit), Marsh Dweller specializes in earthy melodic black metal in the vein of FenOctober Falls, and Nechochwen. In the competitive world of nature-themed black metal, does this full-length debut surpass its blurry backwoods artwork or remain as exciting as swatting mosquitoes and throwing Borax on soiled boxer briefs?

Let me start by saying I get this is a saturated genre, and whether most people even listen to this will probably depend on if they still have an appetite for the style after Ashbringer, Falls of Rauros, and other similar albums from recent times. That said, it’d be a damn shame to miss The Weight of Sunlight, as it’s one of the strongest albums I’ve heard in the style in years. In addition to his knack for delivering quality riffs that sound both surprisingly fresh and wholly distinct from one another, Kerr displays a keen sense of pacing and arrangement that lets these 8 tracks stand well both alone and as part of the greater whole. Through its 43 minute runtime, Sunlight soars through an assortment of lush streaming leads, chunky shuffling chords, cresting treetop melodies, and perfectly placed moments of rich woodsy ambience. There’s no tedious meandering or a whiff of filler – these songs are tightly written and packed with ideas that manage to stand out even in a crowded genre.

First proper track “The Dull Earth” showcases this from the start, beginning with an encircling Celtic melody that weaves through the blunt surging riffs, gruff rasps, and twirling harmonized soloing of guest guitarist Tanner Anderson (Obsequiae). Early highlight “Where the Sky Ends” follows with a tremolo progression that sounds like a catchier version of something from Agalloch‘s Marrow of the Spirit before intertwining folky leads alternately ride along and break free from the rhythm guitars. Later songs showcase even more variety: in addition to a slick twisted melody and ritualistic clean backing vocals, sixth track “Forks of the River” also marks the first appearance of soft clean picking, and the song’s electric tears outro is all the stronger because of it. “Feathers on the Breath of God” stands out for its peppy uptempo progression and tribal drumming finish, while mid-album instrumental “Heaven’s Empty Light” utilizes a singing bowl, ambient woodland noise, and repetitive reverb-laced chords to provide a hypnotic counterpoint to the dense compositions elsewhere on the record.

Marsh Dweller - 2016

Production-wise, the DR varies but maintains a respectable 7, allowing moments like the busy drumwork and tender acoustic chords of instrumental opener “Cultivating the Cosmic Tree” to shine. There’s just enough depth to conjure a vivid soundscape, yet the guitars maintain suitable potency, smoothness, and crunch. To really nitpick, I guess the bass could be more prominent and the drums could be a little more full, but overall this is a great sounding record.

In fact, my only real gripe with Sunlight is that it doesn’t break much new ground for the genre, but when it’s done with this much inspiration it’s hard to complain. The guitarwork is varied and memorable without being hammy or derivative, the drumming is suitably lively and dynamic, the atmosphere is convincing, and – with an average track length of just over 5 minutes – ideas are repeated at just the right times and never overstretched. Moments like the terrific beat shift in aforementioned “Sky” or the Wodensthrone melody-turned-tremolo riff of the closing title track show Kerr knows how to reforge his ideas for max effect, and the guest solo of Nechochwen‘s Aaron Carey on “Monumental Collapse” only add to the fun. With a bit more adventure and experimentation in the future, Marsh Dweller could very well become the next Panopticon. For now, it’s hard to ask for a better start.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eihwaz Recordings
Websites: facebook.com/marshdwellerhails | marshdweller.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: August 15th, 2016

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  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Fen, Nechochwen, Wodensthrone, Ashbringer, FoR…

    The name dropping is making me excited in more ways than just one.

    • Take a cold shower, you degenerate.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        I know you had to wipe at least one drop of saliva from your gob before making that response.

        “This is one of the most enthralling and exquisite pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time.” – Nechochwen review, 4.5/5.0.

  • Mike

    Really, REALLY wish there were some song samples out there. I was super excited reading this and then it ended saying possibly the next Panopticon!

  • Reese Burns

    I think I’m in love with this, and I haven’t even heard it yet.

  • Blueberry Balls

    Are there any track previews available?

    • Reese Burns

      I haven’t been able to find any. If you manage to track one down, mind letting us know?

      • Blueberry Balls

        Cmon, band. Give us a song for this sweet review.

        • Reese Burns

          All the shitty 1.5-2.5 bands are doing it, why not the 4.0 bands!

          • [not a Dr]

            Because we don’t really care if we don’t get to listen to shitty bands.

        • [not a Dr]

          What are you going to do about this one? Unicorn the reindeer on his hoodie? Crop out the top of the unicorn’s head? This is a challenging unicorning which will require your savoir-faire.

          • Blueberry Balls

            Bueno.

    • From their Farcebook page:
      “I’ve been seeing some frustration that there have been no song premieres, samples, or anything of that sort.

      All I ask if that you please be patient. I’m sort of “old school” with
      this kind of shit and think that albums should be heard as a complete
      experience. Especially with this record, I don’t think you can really
      appreciate or understand one song without hearing the context
      surrounding it. That might sound like some pretentious bullshit, but
      fuck it. This is already a “solo project” and you can’t get more
      pretentious than that, so I might as well go all in. Just try and
      understand me as an artist, maaaan.

      But having said that…watch this space. HAPPENING.”

      TL,DR: No.

      • Blueberry Balls

        Well cool beans then, but dammit stop making us wait sonny boy!

    • [not a Dr]

      The album is on bandcamp now.

      • Blueberry Balls

        Sweet, thanks man!

    • Reese Burns

      Just in case anyone had forgotten, it’s out today!

  • So, now it’s here and we can all hear it, I must say: it’s a bit *too* much Panopticon for me. I love that band, though, so I dig Marsh Dweller all the same. But it’s a bit too much of the same for me.