If you have a place that you can call home, even if that’s not a physical structure, you should consider yourself lucky. Some people never happen upon a place to put down roots and continually find their way to different places until their level of comfort subsides, and then it’s on the road again, looking for the next place to try to embrace.
The second record from Marsh Dweller, the solo project of multi-instrumentalist John Owen Kerr (Pyrithe, Noltem, Seidr), is called “Wanderer,” and it’s not by mistake. Kerr explores the idea of continually feeling one’s way through attempting to find a place that can be a true home, even as one travels from town to town, place to place looking for that ultimate warmth. On top of one’s home evolving over time, so has Kerr’s music. This is a much different record from 2016’s “The Weight of Sunlight,” as the songs are much longer, more atmospheric, and even quite beautiful in spots. It’s easy to get lost in this music and go on a journey with what you’re hearing, almost like a wayward soul moving from place to place. Everything here is played entirely by Kerr (there are backing vocals by Jason Walton and quest vocals by Michelle Bellucci), and it shows a dexterity of playing and a refusal to adhere to one style, which keeps this project open ended.
“Wanderer I” begins with charging riffs, rich atmosphere, and a forceful bark before we head into the body of the song. Leads swim over top the ambiance, while spacey keys wash over that, and the track begins to trudge again. Later, a new riff develops, feeling a little like Iron Maiden, before going clean for a stretch and then combusting again. Clean calls and wails mix, while the last moments wrench and trickle out. “Wanderer II” is the monster of the set, a 17:24 beast, a length unheard of from this project just last record. The track pulsates and goes on an extended build before tearing open with roared vocals arriving, and icy guitars dripping. The bulk of the song is mesmerizing even while it’s chewing away, as it’s not out of the question to feel locked in an area between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, as you observe. The vocals crush while the music feels damp and cold, merging in with cosmic keys. Wild cries burst, while sounds waft and simmer, twisting and turning into an alien structure before firing up again. The vocals cry out, electro blips mildly shock, and everything merges into the clouds. “Coalesce” breaks away from the main thread as noise buzzes and clean guitar lines trickle into the scene, before deep growls are launched and the pace rumbles. Later, the guitars pull back, and the drums echo, leaving some room for introspection. The track then comes back to life, feeling fluid and immersive, reminding me a bit of Rush.
“Fall” is utterly hammering at the front end, an aggressive assault that makes for some of the heaviest stuff on here. Riffs cascade and proverbially soak the ground, while gruff growls pelt the flesh, your blood is made to race, and sharp melodies cut through the darkness, dissolving in space. “Wanderer III” opens in a cosmic haze, with warm leads working into the coldness, and a dreamy tranquility settling over like a massive cloud coverage. Clean singing gives off hints of deathrock shadows, while Bellucci’s voice adds an otherworldly texture, like she’s a siren calling you into the sky. From there, the ugliness returns as growls splatter, melodic guitars weave into the fog, and Kerr wails, “Forever be astray!” The tempo picks up again and begins to mash, while the main riff returns a little faster, wild howls burst, and the track comes to a crushing end. “Wanderer IV” is a quick instrumental closer built with spacey keys, the feeling of a pre-dawn mist, and a buzz of sound that swirls overhead and gently fades away.
While some people always will be on a journey for a familial surrounding and true home in their lives, perhaps they can use “Wanderer” as a sort of companion. Kerr’s music under the Marsh Dweller umbrella continues to expand into the stratosphere, and while this remains heavy and volcanic, the added depth and hues go a long way toward making this beast more flexible. Both Marsh Dweller albums stand in stark contrast to each other musically, so there’s no telling where record three will take Kerr and the listeners.
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