Though the Clearing Path is a solo act (and a new one at that), you wouldn’t think it listening to this debut. Watershed Between Earth and Firmament has all the signs of one man’s amalgamated influences, but the performance is full-bodied and well-rounded. On most of these one-man black metal acts, the mastermind involved is usually proficient in only one instrument, if any. In multi-instrumentalist Gabriele Gramaglia‘s case, had I known nothing about the project going in, I might have suspected the album was the work of a hardcore band who decided one day to try post-black metal for size.
Watershed Between Earth and Firmament is a short album by modern standards, but it leaves the promising impression of a post-black act that actually knows how to bring the energy along with the atmosphere. ‘Post-black metal’, in this case, refers to the gazey trend that, for better or worse, has exploded in the past five years. While the atmosphere and musicianship is usually on point with bands like Fen and everybody’s favourite pop darlings, Deafheaven, it’s actually pretty rare that a band uses alternative influences to an energetic effect. The only other ‘post-black’ album I’ve heard this year that’s managed to retain the violence in its sound has been Bosse-de-Nage‘s All Fours. The fact that I’m comparing Watershed Between Earth and Firmament to one of my favourite albums of the year bodes well for this new project. If Gramaglia’s already managed to do what most of his contemporaries seem to fail with or overlook, there’s ample reason to think the Clearing Path could have a powerful future ahead of it.
The album’s half-hour runtime is somewhat underwhelming, though it’s easily preferable to an album that runs past its welcome. While I would have liked to have heard more material on the album, the Clearing Path covers an impressive range. ‘Holy Waters’ is indicative of the project’s fusion of black metal, post-hardcore, and sludge; the production is rich and sounds like it was recorded off the floor—an impressive feat for one man performing all instruments himself! Frantic, sludgy riffs often gallop alongside or between cleaner guitars, carrying with them a strong post-rock ambiance I quickly associated with Fen. ‘Atop the Throat, My Glance Cautiously Surveys the Depths’ functions as the album’s entr’acte, an interlude that may have escaped beneath the radar had it not brought the Clearing Path’s most gorgeous dive into Gramaglia’s latent yet ever-present shoegaze and post-rock influences.
Most surprising of all is the album’s closing track. Hearing ‘This River Will Carry Me Towards the Grandest Light’ depart from sludgy black metal to jazz-tinged progressive rock almost sounded like another project had usurped control over the album. Stylistic shifts like this certainly aren’t unheard of on the forward-thinking side of any genre, but I get the feeling I wouldn’t have heard such a stark change in tone had this project’s musical direction been tempered by more than one person. While Gramaglia carves out a strong sense of identity on this home, he demonstrates he’s not afraid to go against his own conventions.
I do think the post-black metal trend needs more bands like the Clearing Path if it is to survive. While this debut draws upon very familiar dynamics, the energy lends new life to the style. I feel like Watershed Between Earth and Firmament is a hint at great things; there’s not a lot of material to bite into here, and there was probably room to take this sound even further than he did, but I’ve been left eager to hear more from this project. If that is the general goal for debuts, I’d say this one has met its ends admirably.
01) Holy Waters
02) Sacred Mountain
03) Goddess Aura
04) Atop the Throat, My Glance Cautiously Surveys the Depths
05) My Wild Goose Chase
06) This River Will Carry Me Towards the Grandest Light