So at some point in times of yore some really weird Australian dudes got together and decided that they were going to dress up like Victorians from outer space and play completely insane death metal with a militantly abstract and Gothic Lovecraftian twist. Imagine if all the members of Immolation lived their whole lives in Bedlam with access only to instruments created by the Old Gods and emerged one day to showcase the sounds that they had invented in their long and arduous isolation from the world and you might imagine what Portal sound like.
While conventional is not really a word you can use to describe Portal, on Seepia
its clear that they hadn't quite nailed the dimension melting atmosphere that they are known for today. Still, Seepia
boldly sets the foundation on which the twisted architecture that is Portal's discography has been built on. The riffs are tumultuously tempestuous and deliciously dissonant, with enough ligament ruining tremolos and violent seven stringed fret waltzing to make the likes of Erich Zann weep, but there is often some degree of orthodoxy to the song-writing. For example, 'Vessel of Balon' features a relatively traditional power chord riff as its centrepiece, the drummer rarely strays from the safety of blast-beats, 'Atmosblisters' feels a little lacklustre and doesn't really bring much to the album, and there is even something vaguely resembling a guitar solo towards the end of 'Transcending a Mere Multiverse'. All that said, the intelligence with which Portal forged their nightmarish atmosphere definitely emerges from time to time, such as the bells at the start of 'Tempus Fugit' which might be ringing from deep in some kind of temple in R'lyeh, or the foreboding if a little pointless drone interlude 'Antiquate'.
Indeed, the album itself starts with some strange obscure murmuring echo and the ticking of a clock or swinging of a pendulum, like some far-off doomsday device slowly counting down the precious last moments of sanity. When the riff arrives, it is precisely the kind of blistering mindfu
ck you expect. While some might complain that the production lets the intense riffery down a little, in reality it just makes repeated listens all the more rewarding, there is always some twisting vein of dancing notes that you didn't pick up on the last time.
The Curator's trademark gruff yet airy inter-dimensional death-rattle is as commanding and evil as ever, but lyrically he writes somewhat less uniquely, with many of the lines being compromised of actual syntactically correct English sentences rather than the bizarre soul shrivelling pseudo-latin ranting he began to adopt as the band refined their sound. Again, of course, his lyrics are still patently deranged, gleefully describing the likes of vast evil keeps or bewildering shrines to unknown gods.
Many people rave about 'Glumurphonel', but for me the best song on the album has to be the superbly cataclysmic 'The Endmills', which builds from a fairly typical swirling sea of sweltering swayying riffs tempered by the Curator's soothing rasps that consumes itself like an Ouroboros and devolves into the sound of utter and absolute disintegration of all matter into a dimension far superior to this one.
I think it goes without saying that this band and album are not for the unprepared, but if you have listened to much of this ultra-intense suffocating blackened death metal that seems to be emerging left and right these days, you owe it to one of that sound's originators to check this the heck out.