Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Panopticon and Obsequiae made sweet, blackened, medieval love and made a baby, then raised that baby on a hefty dose of classic metal? Wonder no more, because that baby is Marsh Dweller. It's not surprising that John Kerr, the primary member and creator of Marsh Dweller, would draw on those influences, given he's drummed in Seidr with Panopticon main man Austin Lunn and worked with Tanner Anderson from Obsequiae. You can read a fair amount about this musical friendship in the delightfully rambling, drunk interview with Kerr over at Meat Mead Metal.
Given that description, you may have a good idea of what this album will deliver, but it will probably still surpass your expectations. You'd expect great drumming from Kerr--and you get it--but the beautiful guitar worship, complete with a nearly endless supply of melodic riffing and soloing, adds a whole other dimension. If you think you also hear a little medieval twist, you wouldn't be wrong--Anderson from Obsequiae contributes a guitar solo to "The Dull Earth." It would be hard to list all the cross-pollination and influences from these musicians, but "Feathers on the Breath of God" might sum up this album more than any other single song. You start with black metal tremoloing and Kerr's mid-range yowl, only to be thrown into an old school thrash riff. The riffs trade back and forth, but check in at around the 4-minute mark if you want to hear how sublime this music can be. The interplay between the low, grumbling riff, the intricate drum fills, the majestic solo line, and a touch of synth is a delight.
If I had one, minor complaint (and it is a very minor issue), it's that occasionally the nature field recordings are a bit too intrusive. "Empty Light of Heaven" is a beautiful, delicate piece of music, slowly building with an almost orchestral feel, but for me, the incessant babbling brook clamors for too much attention. And I'll be blunt: The crunching footstep sounds at the end of "Feathers" sounds a bit like a cow chomping on some grass. I grew up around dairy farms, O.K.? I hear what I hear.
But in the end, this is a nature-centric album, so I can understand Kerr's motivation with adding these, and even if I personally find them a little distracting, they're by no means my biggest takeaway from the album. This is a must-have for Panopticon and Obsequiae fans, and even if you haven't dug into their respective catalogs, anyone interested in yet another interesting direction black metal can be taken should give a listen.