Label: I, Voidhanger Records
The Metal Archives page for The Clearing Path describes the band’s style simply as “black metal” – and by Satan’s horns, that is one monstrously misleading understatement. Sure, black metal may underpin the sound of new album Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea, as well as previous album Watershed Between Earth and Firmament, but there’s so much more going on beyond that. This is the mutant spawn of black, progressive, and technical death metal, all combined in to one profoundly ambitious half hour. If you’ve ever complained about black metal lacking in ambition (and I’m certainly guilty of that!), this is an album to demonstrate that there’s plenty of ambitious artists still out there in 2017.
As the album titles indicate, there is a real sense of continuation between Watershed Between Firmament… and Watershed Between Earth… – a sense of shared narrative links the albums, and though it’s clearly the work of the same artist (sole member Gabriele Gramaglia), the improvements from the old album to the new one are huge. The most obvious point is the production – Watershed Between Firmament… sounds huge, conjuring spacious vistas and soundscapes that are equal parts Cynic and Enslaved – especially during closer ‘This Starway Will Carry Me Towards The Grandest Light’. Yet these sonic valleys are crammed full of detail, with different lines of melody and dissonant movements competing for your attention. It is incredibly easy to lose yourself within this record, with so many different elements at play at any one time, making repeated listens incredibly rewarding.
Yet there’s also immediate rewards on offer. Opening track ‘Ankhtkheperura in Thee’ in particular is full of malevolent energy, its discordant nature summoning the kind of uncomfortable atmospheres more typically associated with Deathspell Omega and others in the modern French scene. Yet there’s something immediate there too that can be grasped hold of, with vaguely progressive melodies in the background and a restless, kinetic energy offering a way in to what could otherwise be an unfathomable madness. It’s these competing, yet complimentary, progressive and discordant elements that make Watershed Between Firmament… such a thrilling album, and whilst the ambition to create such brave music was present on previous album Watershed Between Earth…, it’s here that this vision has been realised to its proper extent.
It feels simultaneously staggering and inevitable that an album such as this could emerge from a one-man band. The scope of imagination and talent on display throughout the album is astounding, and in today’s over-crowded scene it’s so very rare for a band to bring diverse references to mind whilst sounding wholly unique, as The Clearing Path do. And yet, the singular vision that must be required to realise a record of this nature could surely only arise from a project where a single force drives proceedings onwards, where no other artistic visions have to be considered. Watershed Between Firmament… is an incredibly impressive release, and it would be a shame were it to be lost in the inevitable feast of retrospection that is music journalism in December. This is an album well worth your attention, and a band that could well go on to produce a future underground classic.
Watershed Between Firmament… is available digitally and on CD via the I, Voidhanger Records Bandcamp page.