Marsh Dweller is the solo project of John Owen Kerr, drummer for Louisville’s Seidr, among a few other projects. The fact that Seidr also has amongst its ranks Austin Lunn (Panopticon) ought to be a fairly apt predictor for Marsh Dweller, and in fact, it is. The project’s debut LP, The Weight of Sunlight, includes a lot of the folksy, melodic black metal traits that Lunn’s main project expresses so well, and does a damn fine job in doing so.
More than just this, however, are connections to the tempos and melodies of classic melodeath, or the slightly neoclassical sides of certain melodic black metal. The former comes from riffs that might have sounded quite at home on The Jester Race; just try to shake the “December Flower” thoughts from your head during the beginning passages of “Feathers on the Breath of God.” And the latter often comes through via guest spots by members of Nechochwen and Obsequiae.
Still, this is Kerr’s vision, and he directs the proceedings with a deft, efficient hand, and the occasional nod to more traditional heavy metal riff stylings (some serious gallop in “Where the Sky Ends,” for example). In other words, expect this to be lush, emotive, downright gorgeous, and occasionally even rock a little. Add in Kerr’s great black metal rasp, the sporadic clean chants, and drumming that often feels quite Lunn-esque, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine debut that stands out in a scene that is starting to become a tad saturated.
Marsh Dweller’s efficiency and intermittent aggression are what set the project apart from some of Kerr’s more established peers in Panopticon and Obsequiae. At a little over 42 minutes, The Weight of Sunlight is a far more economical experience than the last few Panopticon albums, and it is far more aggressive than anything Obsequiae peddles.
And like those two bands, Marsh Dweller’s most important trait is Kerr’s ability to tap into an irresistible melodic sensibility to hook the listener and glue everything together. The often simplistic leadwork is the vehicle for this, and can feature as few as one guitar or too many to count all at once, causing the listener to attempt to follow individual lines as they all blend into a complex tapestry of notes. Also important to the album’s flow and dynamic breadth is the variety of music underneath these leads, which can range from a heavy pummeling (“The Dull Earth”) and more Drudkh-minded “sea shanty” black metal (“Forks of the River”) to a full blasting attack (the aforementioned “Feathers on the Breath of God”).
With apologies to Mr. Kerr for beating the band comparison horse to death, it is necessary to again bring up Panopticon and Obsequiae. Because of the similarities (and band relationships), it is nearly impossible to separate Marsh Dweller from those acts. However, the differences make Kerr’s solo act not so much a midpoint between them as a kind of third side of the Current Folky American Melodic Black Metal Triangle. Because The Weight of Sunlight is arriving later than several other similar albums, it is tough to say how much it will stick in the ears of scene fans. However, because it does offer just enough of a unique twist – not to mention some pretty mesmerizing music – it should find its way into many a collection.