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Ghastly Marshes - Ancient Spirits of the Fen [Psychotic Release - 2016]

Ghastly Marshes is a collaborative dark ambient project between D. Finley (AKA Invercauld) and E. Lago of Black Mountains Chronicles.  I am already a fan of Invercauld's surrealistic environments from releases a decade prior, but have never listened to Black Mountains Chronicles.  This CDr "Ancient Spirits of the Fen" is their 2nd album under this alias.  It contains 15 tracks 2 - 5 minutes in length.

For all the nature references in its titles, the sound palette found on "Ancient Scripts" is largely metallic, mechanical, manmade, with a distinct sense of being indoors. I hear clattering chains, whirring of motors, noise oscillators, a distorted wet howling, and various tonalities of rushing air.  It is easy to imagine myself in the belly of the factory, locked in the freezer, the desecrated cathedral.  If you read books, watch movies, play video games, or indeed, listen to dark ambient, you have visited these places.  This music is essentially gothic virtual reality.

Invercauld's earlier work was fashioned from Halloween sound FX albums.  His ingenuity with the source material was impressive even in 2004, on his debut "Tiamhaidh".  I hadn't heard of any new material of his for years.  It's a pleasant surprise to see him still creating.  Looking up Black Mountains Chronicles, I found they are a similar 'dark fantasy' ambient project, with albums dating all the way back to 1993 (under the name 'Tombstone').

This is not a minimal record.  if anything, it is crowded with a blur of overlapping events, fragments of almost-memories, an oneiric tide with a many pocketed essence of sudden glimpses into unlived lives.  In its density and eventfulness, it is not unlike the work of Yen Pox.  It rewards repeated listening, and close scrutiny on headphones.  Each time it is heard, the tracks seem just as oddly unfamiliar.

It is all coated with stinging artificial reverb, a film of shrill treble.  The soundspace is an indistinct, whitewashed mass, not the most three dimensional or inviting to the ears.   It's a low fidelity affair, and there are times when this seems to validate its authenticity.  It speaks to physically hazardous degrees of cold.

I feel a bit claustrophobic when the bitcrunched digital noise is piled in modulating scribbles upon the already full frequency spectrums of the reverberation contrail vortex.  When the spacial qualities of the sounds in the backdrop can no longer be perceived, it's a clutter beyond what could be justifiably needed to evoke any sound environment, and becomes a contradictory mess.  This happens in a handful of tracks.

Ultimately, this is sincere feeling, but sloppily crafted.  It is filled with effort and content, but isn't organized with the restraint or clarity to bring forth fully formed images.  Its component parts have been unceremoniously mashed together.  The multitudes of sound layers do not beg to be deciphered, appearing immediately to be hastily piled atop one another, a fatiguing, ringing murk overflowing with whispers, footsteps and wailing feedback sirens.  The musicians should have spent more time honing each sound in the mix, deciding its proper place in an interrelated balance of sounds.  Invercauld's previous albums, I think, had a greater sense of focus than is found here.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Josh Landry
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