It is difficult not to love the present-day metal scene, regardless of social media’s blatant promotion of every quarrel, squabble, or disorderly quiff. John Kerr’s solo project, Marsh Dweller, is exactly the sort of sound to be expected from Bindrune Recordings’ soul-sister, Eihwaz Recordings. These labels have a thing for geographically specific metal, and this new wave of extraordinarily consistent American folk metal releases is only propelled further into the spotlight with Marsh Dweller‘s debut, The Weight of Sunlight. Melodic trappings, folk-sy guitar interplay, an underlying grand scheme, and some fuzz-fueled production create a tone both hospitable, and aggressive. This is folk-tinged atmospheric black metal to the very core, and Kerr’s commitment to a singular sound is somewhat commendable. The addition of guest performances from members of Nechochwen and Obsequiae are just icing on the cake, and while The Weight of Sunlight might stick a little too closely to the walls, there is an abundance of great metal within its folds.
Introductory track “Cultivating the Cosmic Tree” instantly pulled my attention to the Nechochwen classic, “Cultivation”. While “Cultivation” from a purely acoustic standpoint is leagues beyond this song’s simplicity, that is partially where Marsh Dweller really spread their wings in light of the Bindrune and Eihwaz catalogs. The Weight of Sunlight is a refreshingly uncomplicated endeavor. “The Dull Earth” opens with some addictive riffing, and the whole track rocks back and forth on a handful of chords. With the exception of one segment in which the bass guitar is given some attention, the track never veers from the beaten path. “Where the Sky Ends” follows in a similar stead, extending itself only far enough to prove an enticing listen. The leads soar above some epic, layered instrumentation, but the actual progressions are incredibly straightforward. A brief spurt of complexity appears with “Monumental Collapse” as the track pushes back melodic elements a tad in favor of more visceral tremelo riffing. The whole song carries a considerably more ominous undertone than that before it, though the melodeath woven throughout the record thus far is clearly evident in the solo featured at the song’s climax which points to older In Flames in a way few bands can manage.
While the quality of The Weight of Sunlight is consistent throughout, the second half of the record is considerably more varied than the first. It also houses, for the most part, the band’s more technical musicianship with “Forks of the River” leaping and bounding between syncopated strumming and rapid blasts. A good deal of the riffs here are beautifully harmonized, and the song is without a doubt The Weight of Sunlight‘s crowing achievement. This is not to say the following tracks are in any way shabby, as “Feathers on the Breath of God” pulls from the more violent tones of “Monumental Collapse”, but with a couple of extra minutes which are spent building quite the epic atmosphere. The song pulls a couple of ideas from Saor‘s book, layering cascading drums with elevating chord progressions and cavernous leads. While the tip of the climax isn’t quite as pummeling as it could be due to some abrasive performances, the payoff is rewarding nonetheless. I feel this track could have better-utilized guitar effects on this track as the primary reverb tone feels too small and roomy to really encapsulate the size required for an effective climax. The riff tone throughout the record is consistently enjoyable, however, boasting just enough grit and fat to fill out a generous portion of the mid-range.
It is unfortunate that the finale and title track doesn’t quite hold up against the rest of the record. Sticking with just two chords and a couple of rhythmic alterations, the song stands out almost as an afterthought; its simplicity is noticeable, even against the backdrop of the rest of the record. Some pretty acoustic work towards the song’s end makes up for this, ending the album on a good note, but I would have liked to have seen more, especially after the two brilliant songs preceding it. The song also acts as a good reminder of how dynamic the album could have been had the band better (and more frequently) implemented acoustic passages. With only 43 minutes of music here, it is no glaring issue, but part of the charm of the folk metal being released currently is the juxtaposition of scale. Where contemporaries would have melded massive orchestration with quieter interludes, The Weight of Sunlight seldom leaves the melodeath-fueled riff-scape it builds for itself. However, if there is one thing Kerr knows to a tee, it is that consistency reigns supreme. Marsh Dweller set a standard in the opening track, and religiously stuck with it over the album’s duration, only dipping very briefly in the closing moments. I can’t help but praise this album’s knack for sticking with the basics in an entertaining fashion, and this is definitely the sort of release that would really flourish in a playlist of similar artists. The current wave of folk metal is overwhelming in scale, and Marsh Dweller carries the flag with bold commitment.
1. Cultivating the Cosmic Tree
2. The Dull Earth
3. Where the Sky Ends
4. Monumental Collapse
5. Heaven’s Empty Light
6. Forks of the River
7. Feathers on the BReath of God
8. The Weight of Sunlight