Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Clearing Path - Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea

The Clearing Path is an innovative and interesting solo project from Gabriele Gramaglia; it’s what I imagine what the offspring of a marriage between Enslaved and Gorguts would sound like. This might seem like mixing oil and water, but it works. The project has remarkable creativity, production value, and technical competence. While the songs aren’t necessarily the best, they are strong enough to make the album a worthwhile experience. Many potential listeners may bemoan dissonant black metal or mathcore influences creeping into black metal or death metal, but this release clearly doesn’t fit into that milieu. So, while there is plenty of jangle to go around, the album never feels like a Deathspell Omega offshoot or something that a Dillinger Escape Plan fan would have written.

Still, this isn’t going to be for everyone. This project’s unique mix of dissonant and proggy influences means that The Clearing Path needs power chords about as much as a barbershop quartet would need a distortion pedal. If you are looking for lighter, proggy metal, this release may be too far on the abrasive side. Similarly if you want vicious abrasive death or black metal then this may be too middle of the road for you. Despite the project’s black metal genre tag and the Enslaved/Gorguts influences, The Clearing Path is a very good candidate for the nebulous “extreme metal” tag for those who enjoy dickering over such things.

For all of its creativity and prowess the album’s songs frankly are only good, not great. One of the struggles bands have when straying from well trodden musical paths is they write music that doesn’t go anywhere. Much of Watershed feels like wandering through a forest going “oh cool, look at that thing” but with the distinct sense you are walking in circles. It’s still an incredibly riffy and varied album, but you won’t remember many of the riffs. Novelty isn’t a substitute for tension or resolution, and this album isn’t quite flavorful enough to fall into the “you just have to listen to it for the atmosphere, dude” category.

In light of this, the vocals, both clean and harsh, tend to cut both ways in terms of quality. The harsh vocals are thin rasps, while the cleans are demure and subdued. On one hand they work really well to add a moody atmosphere to the album, putting a somber edge on what are often unorthodox an alien sounding melodies. A less generous interpretation though would be that the sparse vocals are simply nondescript and buried low in the mix just to hide them. Ultimately the vocal approach just works. But, it would be nice to hear them take the forefront more powerfully in order to act as signposts in the song’s structures, like we hear on “This Stairway Will Carry Me Towards the Grandest Light.” The use of clean guitar and vocals on that song breaks up the disorienting melodies and it’s an album highlight.

One major strength of this release is how professional/studio quality the mix sounds. That along with the sharp, compressed, and relatively dry distorted guitar tone makes the album’s sound extremely clear and orderly. Gabriele is credited with the solo project’s recording, and also the mixing (along with Stefano Lattanzio). I’d bet money that Gabriele’s room is ridiculously clean and that he’d also be borderline pissed off if there was a stray sock or dirty plate hanging around the place. You can hear how well this approach works around a minute into “Stargazer Monolith” when the tremolo picking and double bass synchronize like a Swiss watch. The mix also has a really nice wide feel to it, so I wasn’t surprised to see a picture of a seven string guitar on the project’s facebook page; the deep low notes and wide range of guitar notes really complement the mix.

Overall, Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea is a really distinct and solid album.

No comments: