Solo projects are a mixed bag for me. On one hand, you’ll occasionally get a musician’s pure, unencumbered vision, free of competing egos, stylistic conflict, or bullshit social media drama that inevitably leads to a nasty breakup and months of blog posts detailing the extended legal battle over rights to the band name. More often, however, you get good ideas and musicianship hampered by a lack of self-awareness or weakened by the absence of an additional creative force. To paraphrase Stephen King, writers are often the worst judge of their own work, and it’s albums like Summit’s debut The Winds that Forestall Thy Return that reinforce just how important a second opinion (or songwriter) can be. While not a total stinker, Winds’ lack of focus and inability to capitalize on its strengths keep it firmly grounded in the ‘has potential’ category, despite some interesting moments.
Essentially the solo project of Italian multi-instrumentalist Gabriele Gramaglia (though Facebook does list a mysterious ‘R’ as a past member), Summit shows Gramaglia moving past the Krallicey black metal of his other project, The Clearing Path, into self-described ‘progressive sludge/post-metal.’ Opener “Hymn of the Forlorn Wayfarer” proves this an apt enough description, beginning with jarring clean picking that recalls Neurosis. Moving into thrumming, layered chords, spindly clean notes, and wonky rhythmic shifts, “Hymn” begins to sound like a more technical Pelican, minus the cinematic grandeur or wistful atmosphere. The streaming leads and acoustic guitar of the conclusion do redeem things somewhat, but ultimately the track falls flat with its lack of progression, awkward transitions, and technical, obtuse riffing that hinders the attempt at an evocative mood.
As the ten-minute opener in a five song, 35-minute album, “Hymn” is essentially Winds’ underwhelming centerpiece, but fortunately the song’s problems aren’t as obvious on the rest of the record. Effectively the only song with vocals, follow-up “Pale Moonlight Shadow” proves more consistent, layering distant crooning over more Neurosisy riffing, before moving into progressive black metal territory and introducing the strained roars of Krallice’s Nicholas McMaster. Gramaglia shows his ambient influence on the two-part title track, beginning the first part with a sample of a distant radio broadcast before moving into four minutes of pleasantly spacious delay-pedal effects. Sadly, the mood is bludgeoned as the second part barrels in with more off-kilter guitar-work and dissonant riffing.
On the plus side, Winds does sound great, with a deep, thick bass, a jangly guitar tone, and washy chords that still retain a sharp edge. While the DR isn’t massive, songs like closer “Aeons Pass, Memories Don’t Fade” do an excellent job conveying the sheer sense of space, an effect augmented by the track’s echoing drum hits and wonderful neofolk-esque acoustic melody that continuously tumbles, repeats, and fades to oblivion.
But ultimately, with “Aeons” as the best track here, it makes me wonder if Gramaglia may have been better off making a fully ambient record instead. With sharp, emotionless arpeggios and frequent jarring shifts in the heavier tracks, Summit is too busy and unrestrained to evoke any sort of reflective or meditative atmosphere, but nor is it particularly technically impressive. Sure, the drumming is competent, with its shifting rhythms, rolling beats, and occasional blasts, but overall Winds just feels like a collection of elevator music that doesn’t even quite succeed at being that. While nothing here is blatantly offensive or difficult to stomach, glimmers of hope like the mountainous acoustic melody in the second half of aforementioned “Hymn” show that Gramaglia has the chops to produce something far better in this style, and reinforce how flat the album is when listened to in full. Post-metal fans looking for an instrumental take on the style may be intrigued, but overall Winds just spends too much time grasping at straws for me to offer a hearty recommendation.