Death metal fucking owns, but if there is a more unassailable fact in this universe, it’s that it takes a rare breed of death metal band to fully capitalize on the genre’s well-worn tropes. There are two routes to success in death metal, either through brutal immediacy or boundary pushing creativity; while most bands understand this, few know how to blaze a trail down either path. The aptly named The Clearing Path deftly navigated the latter route two years ago with their sophomore record Water Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea, a dizzyingly unique and atmospheric take on death metal that I still listen to and think about often. Thus, when I learned about a new, more traditional death metal project from Gabrielle Gramaglia, The Clearing Path‘s sole member, my curiosity immediately skyrocketed. Could Cosmic Putrefaction be the rare band that effectively explores throwback brutality from a unique perspective?
In practice, At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm is far more traditional in scope than I had anticipated. It’s best, then, to examine Cosmic Putrefaction in a vacuum. To its credit, this record is a totally effective death metal offering from a functional standpoint. Though there is a lengthy instrumental intro and interlude designed to crank up the atmospheric dread, the meat of the music delivers buckets of no-frills riffage. Little here is revolutionary, the sonic barrage pivoting from Morbid Angel to Incantation in tone with little outward exploration. But the riffs are consistently good, and there are a handful of great moments to discover, such as the mastery over the ancient art of bringing back the nasty riff, but slower in “The Unheard Shrieks.” Most of the album isn’t particularly engaging otherwise, but it is competent enough to be an enjoyable listen, whether that’s via active listening or as bludgeoning background noise.
The problem here, of course, is that death metal is so oversaturated with bands that being merely enjoyable is an incredibly weak sell in 2019. The aforementioned atmospheric instrumentals, while not unwelcome, feel like vain attempts to inject sophistication into death metal which is, by and large, fairly average. The structural nature of the songs don’t allow the riffs much space to flourish, either; most tracks fall within the two minute range, leaving little headroom for ideas to evolve. That being said, the final two cuts represent major improvements to the Cosmic Putrefaction formula, even if they lack The Clearing Path‘s penchant for blending atmosphere and technicality. “The Ruinous Downfall” exhibits free flowing riffs amidst an evolving web of dynamic rhythms, while closer “The Dismal Black Nothingness” doles out immense, crushing grooves. It’s just a shame that the material preceding these two tracks is relatively forgettable.
The derivative riffage doesn’t allow for standout performances, but At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm is granted a welcome personality by two great vocalists. Brendan Sloan (Convulsing) and XN (Hadit) operate as a commanding force, elevating the guttural vocals above that of the average death metal act with impact and lyrical clarity. The mixing grants their performances a bit too much impact, though, as the high vocal placement often drowns out the rhythm section. It doesn’t help matters that the guitars sound a touch too muddy for the speed of the fretwork, as it can be hard to tell where one note ends and the next begins in the album’s most bombastic moments. Even so, this isn’t a bad sounding death metal record; its engineering is more average than abysmal, its predictable loudness counterbalanced by its sub-half-hour runtime.
Taken in context with Gramaglia’s The Clearing Path project, Cosmic Putrefaction‘s lack of ambition is confounding. Experienced in isolation, At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm is an abbreviated slab of merely okay death metal. It feels like this particular endeavor was meant to be the artist’s way of providing an outlet for the primal corners of his death metal affinity, but the end result is not nearly as vicious as one would hope. Should Gramaglia learn to distill his previously proven creative energy into consistently sharp riffs and smarter songwriting with this project, then Cosmic Putrefaction may someday have a second chance at life. As it stands now, it’s a perfectly average death metal act, but in a scene currently exploding with creativity, that may as well be a death sentence.