In societies in which the intelligible dominates aesthetics, where order and cleanliness are traits to be desired and celebrated, esoteric-ism is a form of aesthetic rebellion. Instead of ideals which make something easy to digest and, thus, to market, the delving into esoteric ideas confuses and beguiles the consumer, creating sensations of unease and disquiet. This has been one of metal’s guiding standards from day one; the whole movement/genre was founded on the idea of rebellion and the desire to expose thoughts, emotions and perspectives which weren’t necessarily the easiest to come to terms with or understand. As time goes by and the apparatus of market relations expands into art, culture and other modes of expression, there is a growing need for the sort of metal which challenges the norm and sets at its core enigmas, unintelligible ideas and abrasiveness.
Thankfully, The Clearing Path are more than able and willing to rise to the challenge. This one man project, spearheaded by one Gabriele Gramaglia, hails from Italy and makes the type of black metal which straddles the line with death via sheer technicality and tone. The project’s second full length release, Watershed Between Firmament And The Realm of Hyperborea (a name which instantly refer back to the intro paragraph of this article and the ideas of radical esoteric-ism), is a twisting exploration of these ideas, constantly offering up something new. Where-ever it goes, it’s coated in this impenetrable sheen of bewildering musical composition and a vast, cavernous approach to production. This creates an album that’s abrasive in ways far beyond the fact that the vocals are growls/shrieks.
It’s a kind of celestial chill, a coldness of approach and direction which lends Watershed it’s power. The guitars are omni-present but extremely varied. On one track, “The Pillars of Creation”, they’re playing complex leads while open chords sing in the background of the mix, upheld by the powerful bass (reminding us of Colin Marston’s work, who contributed re-amping to the album). On another, they benefit from a more directly aggressive approach, forming a wall of sound that’s become a staple of this type of technical music (check out the opening track “Ankhtkheperura In Thee (A Mystical Enlightenment)” for this approach). While not the only tool of overload and abrasiveness, the vocals still play a massive role in setting the atmosphere of out of reach insight and cosmic violence.
All of this comes together to create an album which feels unintelligible but nonetheless invites a kind of obsessive curiosity, a need to dissect and understand that which is obviously out of reach. And that’s what keeps you coming back; it’s not catchy, it’s not sell-able, it’s not intimate. It’s harsh, unforgiving and often moves at a pace that doesn’t take your needs and limitations into consideration. That constant feeling of almost getting it is what will send you back to The Clearing Path and Gramaglia knows that; all tools are utilized to make sure you’re hooked on your own lack of understanding. In that sense, the project epitomizes the ambition of not just black and death metal; to defy the acceptable, to shun the digestible. To go beyond.