Watershed Between Firmament and The Realm of Hyperborea by The Clearing Path

Release date: December 8, 2017
Label: I, Voidhanger Records

I’ve been following with a sort of perverse glee the deployment of bizarre tonalities that has gripped the metal world over the past few years. What’s remarkable about this movement is its evolution away from strictly theoretical dissonance (a word I hesitate to use, as it implies that there is a correct type of sonority) has led it into beautifully strange new territories. The Clearing Path’s Watershed Between Firmament and The Realm of Hyperborea is an exceptional spiritual exploration that follows this track with aplomb.

Howls of Ebb (also on I, Voidhanger) and Jute Gyte, to give just two examples within extreme metal, have unwoven the threads of the history of guitar playing in metal, making use of a tone that sounds more akin to Peter Brötzmann’s squawking saxophone than the clean runs of Metallica. What emerges out of this movement in extreme metal is a Lamarckian view of musical evolution. No longer are listeners beholden to some sort of genealogy that inevitably leads to recommendations that say “FFO [something banal and obvious]”, but this sort of deconstructive and ambitious sound lays bare the assonances between experimental music of all stripes. The Clearing Path and the aforementioned bands are, then, for fans of Albert Ayler. Peter Brötzmann. John Zorn. You get the picture.

What differentiates The Clearing Path from these other bands is their unabashed focus on mysticism, thematizing a view of the world that is less push/pull than both/and. The seamless transitions between intricately constructed soundscapes, such as the middle section of the opening track, ‘Ankhtkheperura in Thee (A Mystical Enlightenment)’, and its visceral opening riffs underlines this worldview. This sort of extremity is one of true extremes: the themes of overflow and (philosophical) excess are palpable at all moments. Even the almost lilting opening to the final track ‘This Starway Will Carry Me Towards The Grandest Light’ threatens always to collapse in on itself – until it eventually does of course. But the collapse one of a sort of beautifully creative destruction, a marrying of the expected with the brutal.

This album is not just a playing with tropes, though, but a tropology unto itself, studying the various traces of movement, paths taken and paths forgotten. It leaves the listener tantalizing ideas, and no two listeners will take them in the same way. This is yet another way that this album reminds one of the great tradition of experimental music, questing after Hyperborea, the lost continent, sunken to the seafloor of our consciousness mind, sequestered for fear it might overwhelm us, shown to souls that have been ontologically displaced from the quotidian.

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