According to Google, the Great Dismal Swamp is a real place. It’s a brilliant name, so much so that it’s hard to believe it’s taken from an actual location. But it’s completely real, a forested wetland in Southeastern Virginia that encompasses a vast four hundred and fifty square kilometres. To a Brit like myself, the pictures of it appear anything but ‘dismal’. Prehistoric-looking trees rise from misty, viscous waters. Exotic animals like bears, alligators and bobcats roam wild and free. It looks harsh, primal and frankly beautiful.
This wild atmosphere is similarly explored on Virginia, the newest album from dark ambient/experimental/doom project Great Dismal Swamp. Like the group’s namesake, Virginia is mysterious, murky and dangerous, yet also vast, arcane and wonderous. Black metal vocals and harsh noise are shotgun-married to stretches of comparative calm and poetic lyricism, meaning the album works best when understood as a push and pull between these two polarities. The best tracks, specifically the ten minute-epic ‘The Cityscape In Which My Nightmares Dwell’ are a fifty-fifty split between the two. The opening half is the most eerily gentle on Virginia, layering ominous vocals atop swirling synths. It then gives way to an industrial second half of sheer brilliance; think Godflesh trying their hand at black metal.
Virginia is perhaps best understood as a work of the southern gothic genre. ‘Lucifer, Son Of Mourning’ takes its name from an Isaiah 14:12 quote, warping what recalls a hymn or chain-gang song with viscerally exciting, ear-piercing noise. ‘Ritual For Cleansing The Forsaken And The Mire They Inhabit’ possesses a similarly old testament title, and creepily reverberates its drums and choral vocals as if being recorded in a cavernous, haunted church. ‘I Saw The Future’ is equally demonic, utilising savage, distorted vocals atop a tremolo and drone guitar bedrock. It crawls and trudges like a swamp beast being summoned from the mire, dripping with plant matter and dirt, come to issue a warning of disaster.
A creepily effective trawl through a brutal, yet spectacular landscape. Virginia’s psychogeography is as intelligently plotted as it is sinister. It’s hardly a ‘fun’ or typically entertaining journey, but there’s dark, visceral pleasures to be discovered throughout its fifty-four minutes.
Virginia is out now via Trepanation Recordings and can be ordered here.
Words: Tom Morgan