Gunning for longest album title of the year contender with a late entry comes The Clearing Path with, er, well, let’s just call it ‘Watershed’. (Ok, I realise that this is black metal and the consumption of an entire Thesaurus before spewing out an album title is fairly commonplace, but still). Now, whether it’s my simple brain rewiring itself after listening to a bit too much down-the-rabbit-hole black metal over the past few years, or whether this is a statement of pure, unadulterated fact is difficult for me to discern, but is this album, with all its pummelling percussion, lucid ambience and lush complexity providing an easy gateway into the realms of dissonant black metal? This is the second full length for Gabriele Gramaglia under The Clearing Path moniker and his first major outing since last year’s formidable Summit release. Watershed lays bare Gramaglia’s jarring and jazzy musical bent in an uncompromising fashion, but at the same time is difficult not to sink into as if the firmament in question was a soft, beautifully laid out maths homework book with hallucinogenic properties that left you finally realising why weirder, cleverer people with larger brains than me get excited about all this stuff in the first place.

Watershed teases and prises at the senses, constantly teetering on the brink of a breezy atmospheric jaunt before pulling back with disharmonious basslines and frenetic drums. But things never let loose into utter madness, always maintaining a line of attack on the senses that, no matter how often it feels like things might cascade completely out of control, always returns to a point of delight verging on tripped out meditation. Rather like Deathspell Omega (there, I’ve said it, but at least I left it a respectable way into the review) meets Enslaved in an irresistible dissonant-progressive black metal soundclash that takes the best qualities of both but dishing it all in a more restrained, refined way that would have been totally overdone had this album been twice as long. Nevertheless, Gramaglia packs so much into this confined space while still managing to leave Watershed feeling airy and voluminous at the same time.

The contrasting elements of The Clearing Path’s sound are perhaps best laid out in the opener Ankhtkheperura In Thee (A Mystical Enlightenment) which arrives with crashing, disorientating percussion and departs with a completely captivating, eerie ambience that could have gone on forever echoing across space and time. While fourth and final track This Starway Will Carry Me Towards The Grandest Light pretty much does what it says on the tin – gradually releasing the pressure of Watershed’s earlier compositions into a glorious explosion of aural light that pretty much seals the deal on the superb quality of this release. Had I not been so meticulously punctual filing my end of year top 20 releases early – and, in keeping with the theme of contrasts, comparatively unpunctual pitching in this review – this would surely have made the list. An impressive work that seems to take all the hard work in such complex music away from the listener by an artist whose potential is unfolding before our very eyes.

(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)