Review Summary: Portal shed the murk yet continue to stupefy.
For the last half decade, Portal have been in something of an existential limbo. Much as they claim to be unflinching purveyors of evil and darkness, the Australian five-piece remain vulnerable to the same creative lulls that burden the common rabble; Vexovoid
was a reminder of that. You could almost see it coming, too. The band's sound was slowly but surely being diluted and parcelled off as lesser acts tried to emulate their “atmosphere” but ignored the minutiae beneath. In what was maybe a lapse in judgement made worse by dwindling inspiration, Portal went down the same route and lost sight of what made them one of a kind. Ion
, their latest opus, feels like an attempt at rekindling the spark that is all too often lost to experience and complacency – a spur of the moment dusting of the easel.
Murky production belies technicality no more. Though eyebrows may raise at Ion's
somewhat clear, dry sound – with a lot of emphasis on the word, “somewhat” – the scope of Portal's insanity is at long last bare for all to gawk at. You'd expect that without all the opacity, Ion
would be Portal's most approachable piece of work, but you'd be dead wrong. Nuances are no longer hidden for you to find at your discretion, instead seared into your mind as if this was medium chosen for the torture sequence in A Clockwork Orange
It's punishing in a way that is entirely different to prior efforts, as Portal go above and beyond to resolve as few progressions as they can. Chromatic, tremolo-picked riffs are paired with dissonant chord shapes befitting of a contortionist, while time signatures and tempi are upended on a whim. These shape-shifting rhythms are locked together by percussion that is fittingly erratic, with blast beats giving way to tom fills of which some feel never-ending and others fleeting at best. Aesthetically, Ion
finds more common ground with Seepia
than anything in between, yet has a veiled refinement that was absent upon the band's first attempt. In its curtain raising furore, “ESP ION AGE” beckons at past hits like “Glumurphonel”, only this time with more steely-eyed conviction. It sidesteps each and every point at which it could fall into a pattern as its spiritual predecessor felt it had to – whether to the listener's chagrin, it simply doesn't care.
While there were glints of respite to be found throughout the writhing gloom of Outre
breaks you, then snaps you out of your stupor only to break you over and over again. Any reprieve – such as the motif repeated ad nauseam during the tail end of “Phreqs” – feels as though it is only present to remind the listener of what they're missing. It's the product of lessons learned and applied in as sadistic a manner as possible. Aware of our capacity for acclimation, Portal counter each anomaly with another in such a way that they're almost maddening to try and make sense of.
Beyond the image they've gone so far to project, there is a strange kind of sincerity to Portal's music. They don't pretend as though any dread one may feel is just a side-effect of what they're doing; everything
is honed with the intention of terrifying one to the core. They live and breath the “Lovecraftian” themes that are often snickered at, while revelling in the reductionist criticism they receive from folks who, in their minds, don't know any better. Ion
is both a statement from the heart and a middle finger to all schools of thought, conveyed through a medium that's been twisted and defiled in a way only Portal could pull off.