Review Summary: So....this is what hell sounds like. Blackened death doom meets dark ambience. Basically, if you fell in love with Melanie Laurent in Inglorious Basterds, this is for you sicko.
I’ve heard a lot of strange bands in my day but I believe Australia’s Portal takes the cake. Amidst the stagnancy and lack of creativity in the metal scene today, Portal defiantly and abruptly wade past their incumbent brethren to create some of the most unsettling and spine-tingling music that metal has to offer. Their second full length album “Outre” perfectly demonstrates the Aussie group’s ability to create dynamic and challenging metal that sacrifices nothing and takes no prisoners. Equal parts crushing blackened death metal aggression and raw dissonant ambience, Portal combine the weirdness of Blut Aus Nord with the muscular beat down of Beherit and Immolation to create something supreme. Add in a horror literature aesthetic, bizarre costumes, and foreboding sounds capes and I think you have an idea what to expect. Being heavily influenced by the sadistic ending of Inglorious Bastards, now is a better time than any to bring Portal out of obscurity.
“Outre” is a unconventional album that follows no standards or trends. There are no catchy riffs, cleanly sung choruses, or mellow to heavy dynamics. So if you’re looking for something easy to latch onto, I suggest you stop reading right away. All eight tracks and thirty six minutes of material on this album suffocate the listener with oppressive atmosphere conjured by foreboding riff patterns, raspy death growls, and a fair amount of distortion. But before we head onto the music I’d like to introduce you all to the band members. Vocalist “The Curator” who dons a clock like contraption on his head and a black jumpsuit puts on a menacing performance that only a guy wearing a clock could pull off. Guitar players Illogium and Aphotic along with the rhythm section Phathom Conspicuous and Ignis Fatuus all boast full body black costumes which resemble either A. something straight out of the medieval period or B. clansmen who ordered the right costumes in the wrong color . Pretentious? Campy? Yeah, but all of this translates to a dark and sinister vibe which strengthens the music.
The guitar work is heavily influenced by doom metal but not all of the passages are lumbering behemoths. Although many of them are, there is plenty of mid paced rhythmic fury to inspire furious head banging sessions. And possibly making sacrifices to Cthulhu and/or burning down a cinema. Distorted tremolo picked riffs often cut through the listener like an ice pick going through skin, perfectly balancing heaviness with precise “rise and fall” tempo shifts. Discordant melodies are implemented to ensure that “Outre” never loses it’s grim mystique. Overall, the guitar approach is very simplistic yet extremely effective in portraying feelings of despair and displeasure. I also forgot to mention that soloing is nonexistent. Power metal fans please go back to your Sonata Arctica.
Vocally, there isn’t much variety in terms of pitches or tones but what The Curator lacks in zazz, he certainly makes up for it in sheer malice which helps compliment the asphyxiating production . His raspy growl sounds ravenous especially when coupled with the plodding wall of guitars. Even when vocals are absent, the music actually intensifies. The instrumental track “Outre” takes it to 11 by binding heavy waves of static with unearthly keyboard washes. It lasts for almost three minutes but feels like an eternity. Something tells me this would be a suitable track to obtain information from stubborn detainees. Once again simplicity is a sufficient tactic in creating hellish noise…er music.
The rhythm section is kind of drowned out in the intentionally muddy production but still proves effective with steady bass playing and intricate drumming patterns. Ignis qualifies as a blast beat magician but isn’t afraid to throw down some stuttering fills either. The severity of the mixing likens the tone of the drums to bullets being fired at a distance. They’re not necessarily up close and personal, especially the snare, but it’s damn close enough where a person would run to the hills. Drumming is more complex than both the guitars and vocals but lack none of the feral spirit. Phathom Conspicuous, whatever the hell that means, is a competent bass player who adds a real nice low end to Portal’s oddball arrangements.
The characteristic songwriting abilities of Portal allow them to do whatever they want and whenever they want. Blending blackened death metal with ritualistic ambience is an adventurous concept and for the most part Portal succeeds. I really only have one minor fault. With it being the vocals. Great as they are it would be swell if he added some highs to diversify the inarticulate assault. The more insane sounding the better is what I say. And originally I though the 36 minute length was too insufficient to really delve into but frankly, it’s all you need. After this, you should probably get baptized in an instant.
So, in conclusion my fellow nihilists, apocalyptic sadists, and agents of chaos, Portal is an album that you need to acquaint yourselves with if you haven’t already. Blackened death metal infused with raw ambience and industrialized mayhem, theatrical costumes, and a pretentious lyrical concept , what’s not to love?