Too often savant is thrown around in description of ambitious and driven musicians and to the point where it begins to impinge upon reality, as if a relentless and potentially unhealthy obsession were somehow less possible. Either way the amount of work necessary to create an extreme metal album is devalued and the capability of a quick study, insightful sound designer, or savvy engineer with the funds to experiment is wrongly portrayed as an anomaly and not an intentionally applied force upon the universe. The boon that technology provides for young and intelligent minds is transformative and the true gifted ‘savant’ are in reality just strongly willed and perhaps raised with a powerful work ethic. This is perhaps too thickly veiled praise for the body of work presented by musician Gabriele Gramaglia whose solo ventures into extreme metal over the last four years have provided four tightly wound, complex and vibrantly modern full-lengths between the progressive/post-metal of Summit, the avant-garde black metal project The Clearing Path, and now the decidedly tasteful ‘new old school’ death metal of Cosmic Putrefaction. Each of these releases has seen Gramaglia steadily improving his performative skills as well as a touch for engineering professional sounding extreme metal records but it wasn’t until the release of ‘At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ that I began to feel like he may have some knack for crafting songs beyond imitative clusters of modern extreme metal structures.
Understanding the mood and atmospheric values that define truly ‘modern’ death metal is a rarity even among some of the most popular ‘old school’ death metal acts of today as there are too many traditions that’ve evolved in different parts of the world across these last three decades. Why does Cosmic Putrefaction appear with such a grasp of that gluey, far-reaching abyss? No doubt because of Gramaglia‘s taste level combined with his ability to say, “Hey, I can do that.” and this is ultimately his appeal as a musician in the sense that there seems to be a fixation with creation above rooting himself within any one garden. In 1995 it would’ve been seen as disingenuous but in 2019 it is the monolithic touch of technology enabling higher capabilities within men. The caveat is that there isn’t much that elevates Cosmic Putrefaction among modern death metal groups beyond the erratic progressive structures of ‘At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ and there is little else to lean upon thus far.
When I fire up an Italian death metal release I almost instinctively prepare myself for a brutal attack thanks to a long history of hard-hitters and successful brutal death groups but Gramaglia is clearly more excited by a larger worldview that’d include a lot of the Demilich and Timeghoul equivalencies of today such as Blood Incantation, Nucleus, and Chthe’ilist. The point of differentiation that interests me when approaching this project is that I can’t simply nail down the set of influences in place due to the somewhat convoluted song structures that skate between Tomb Mold-esque grinding and Caducity style bursts of flailing progressive brutality. It never reaches quite the apex of a group like Gorguts or Flourishing in terms of deconstruction but, Cosmic Putrefaction also never quite hit a stride with a groove you’ll remember beyond the moment. Most of the lasting appeal of the experience becomes familiarization and a ‘joy in transit’ as the ebb-and-flow of the record proceeds. Beautiful as death metal riff salad from a highly capable progressive metal musician is, I did end up curious of the greater arc within ‘At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ that’d keep it from blending in with the thousands of other death metal albums kicking around in my brain, fighting for space.
Though it feels uncouth to say after marveling over ‘Grievous’ for the past year, I do think that the session vocals from Brendan Sloan (Convulsing) and XN (Hadit) are plain and merely average in their presence. Exciting as the wretches, roars, and bellowing of it all are at first they’re fit for a more standard death metal project. For this type of vocal to work you’d almost need an early Deicide-esque verse-chorus-verse structure to tear apart the monotone of it and distinguish the relative riff-salad of the guitar work. Without those hooks or an emphasis on lead melodies this sort of death metal tends to burn out on progressive ambition after a few records as they fight to create interest when the vocals could do ten times as much. This is my own gripe with bands that you can inherently see becoming deeply progressive from a mile away but, a lot of personality could come from the sorts of things Sloan does on his own project such as chorales. I don’t intend to workshop a path forward, though, and only felt the body and the head of the beast weren’t sewn together tight enough for the brain to work.
What trumps most of my bellyaching is the sharp taste Gramaglia persists with despite his sometimes over-thought structures, there is a cerebral menace within Cosmic Putrefaction‘s developing musical personality and I found it highly repeatable, heavy, and generally flawlessly performed. There is perhaps some morbidity in wondering what is next from the project but, taking ‘At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ as is finds a completely enjoyable death metal record that is intense and complex but still knows when to break out a big gnarly groove. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest the big riff in the middle of “The Acrimonious Darkness” and “The Ruinous Downfall” the best moments on the record and “The Outermost Threat – Part II” a bit of pointless filler that should’ve ended Side A instead of filling out Side B.
Tremendous decomposition. 4.0/5.0
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