Portal's much touted return is no less sweet than one would expect. Outre
’s suffocating atmosphere has been replicated, perhaps even bettered, and Swarth
swarms and churns under the watchful eye of the Curator. Any signs of progression are merely found in the band’s refinement of their overpowering style, one in which nods towards technicality and furious tremolo riffage are melded into a thick ambiance. What drives Portal is their somewhat frightening image, which hugely complements their somewhat frightening sound. Anyone who has seen the film Silent Hill
can perhaps relate the Portal sound and Portal image to the frightful first half in which Pyramid head dominates – the physical similarities seen between Portal’s Curator and Pyramid head are hopefully not just my imagination.
Portal’s amalgamation of death and black metal is truly unique – rather than your typical output of blackened death a la Morbosidad
, Destroyer 666
, Portal endeavour to sonically devastate through an undefined and weighty flow. This flow is indubitably fluid and unhindered for the album’s entire length, and worms its way through your head and into your thoughts. Looking through Portal’s dense and murky drone, the band’s compositional class really shines through. At first glance, the meld of vigorously played instruments jumps out as one solid punch in the face, but to pick apart the varying elements of this king hit is an arguably enjoyable exercise.
Much like the recently released Everything is Fire
by our sheep-cosy cousins from across the Tasman Sea, Swarth
is at first a seemingly impenetrable and opaque composition – for those acquainted with Portal’s approach to music it may not be so much of a task to find the extent of its depth, but those uninitiated to Portal’s schizophrenic style should not allow first impressions to sway their judgement. Where Ulcerate
create an intense wall of sound, its clarity is not subdued – this is where Portal differs. Despite the benefits of clear production, Portal’s focus on murk and grime gives it a terrifying sense of urgency, much akin to a slow choke – this is highly reminiscent of Corrupted
’s Paso Inferior
, albeit at speedier tempos.
The nature of Swarth
requires it to be the object of great scrutiny – the satisfaction the album gives will not become apparent without focused listens. Its disturbing atmosphere will not truly disturb without the removal of lacklustre expectations regarding musical convention. The Curator will not get to you without you lowering your defenses.