Marsh of Swans – From Ashes Beneath (2017) REVIEW

This Kansas based duo provide an almost academically applied cement to fill the gap betwixt the listless post-rock dynamics of ‘Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde’ era Alcest and the ruddy progressive sheen of Agalloch‘s ‘The Serpent & The Sphere’. ‘From Ashes Beneath’ shows already lofty, well wrought ambitions in their Panopticon-like lyrical theme and overall concepts that are rooted in the providence and identity of their homeland. In this case the lyrics are centered around Civil War conflicts on the Kansas/Missouri border that lead to Kansas becoming a free state. Free of human slavery, that is. It is a decidedly dark trip as the black metal vocals growl out existentialist poetry and Bolt Thrower-like meditations on mortality and self-defense, a far cry from the rote nature worship of many atmospheric black metal projects.

Both halves of Marsh of Swans lend a natural melodic talent to the guitarwork as they shape those aforementioned Alcest and Agalloch core musical themes into reasonably progressive song structures. ‘From Ashes Beneath’ uses the tensile dynamics of albums like Drudkh‘s ‘Handful of Stars’ with present bass and a forward-thinking melodic take on black metal aesthetics. Their use of programmed extreme metal drumming invokes a style closer to the aggression of Wolves in the Throne Room‘s “Diadem of 12 Stars” but further devoid of icy black metal attack. Though I feel the realm of blackgaze, post-black, and atmospheric black metal variants are impossible to dig through anymore Marsh of Swans have a leg up on most of them in terms of sheer musicianship and quality of recording. They’ve aimed higher than groups like Fen, who at their most relaxed peak, ‘The Malediction Fields’, could barely pull in half as much melodic interest.

When revisiting the EP over the course of a couple weeks I found myself drawn towards the brilliant lead guitar work. The final couple minutes of “Out Amongst The Stars”  is transcendent and the beautiful Rotting Christ-esque harmonization at the end of “Blood in the River” builds in such a memorable way. While I didn’t mind the programmed drumming much it inevitably leads to missed opportunities in terms of organic sound and performance dynamics. One could look to the latest Harikiri for the Sky as an example of how much a drummer can change the sound of this type of music. Drums are well arranged, though, and mixed notably better than your average black metal project using EZ Drummer. ‘From Ashes Beneath’ makes excellent use of time and resources here and feels more professional and complete than the vast majority of their peers. The combination of melodic black metal structures and post-rock cinematic flair is far more engaging than I’d expected. I’d like to see what they could do across a full-length with a real drummer.

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Artist Marsh of Swans
Type EP
Released August 20, 2017
BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp! Follow Marsh of Swans on Facebook
Genres
Atmospheric Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal

Nothing left but the sky. 3.75/5.0

 

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