Review Summary: Never idle…
For the better part of thirty years now Portal has been unleashing devastation upon the hallowed shores of Australia, but the band's (whose identities are as shrouded in mystery as the artwork that adorns them) reach has always been further than the country that bore them. Yet, unveiling a project so ambitious through articulated cacophony and devastating dissonance. Portal have always been the purveyors of their craft, taking a boot to the throat of extreme Lovecraftian
-lore, running with the constant rampart ideas; while firmly pushing back at the naysayers and detractors. At the band’s core however is a staple of titanically proportioned molten, burning abrupt and direct metal. In hybridizing death metal with bleeker, blacker tendencies, Portal has gifted themselves some of the murkiest, caustic music across the broad spectrum of the larger metal genre—unapologetic for the way they harness and release their craft. Looking back however it’s clear that this Aussie death piece has had some defining moments, bearings on a map so fraught with detail it’s hard to see all the topography. Seepia
(the debut full-length), Swarth
all stand out as markers for where Portal would take their music.
I can already hear the detractors: “What’s this rubbish?/Did the channel turn to static again?/All this sounds the same./Would you put something normal on please?”
No, it’s much more than that. Where Seepia
paved the way for most of the group’s more dissonant tropes, setting marks on the ground to what would be to come. The likes of Outre
took the extremities fans have come to love and while birthing them, disgorged them onto a sheet so white it would never be clean again. Swarth
in turn forged through the atmosphere and flexed on the molten aesthetic of blackened avant death while remaining true to the ethos so eloquently presented in the debut. Outre
proved Portal was onto something
defined the type of band this Australian group would continue to be. Jumping ahead almost a decade and listeners came to a dichotomy of sorts with ION
’s play at calming the dissonance to an almost accessible level. The classic Portal recipe book was still well and truly open, but there was a limitation to the band’s murk. A sprinkle instead of a splash. A pinch instead of a slosh. Portal began to carve a different direction while hugging the very foundations that made them what they are. Honing what needed to be sharpened and letting everything else run rampant across a portrait of aggression and dizzying dissonance.
Portal’s 2021 effort is the same beast, in a new direction again, in a different guise.
follows a similar pattern to its predecessor, tumulting on the formula that makes deeper cuts like Outre
so damn interesting while resorting to slash at the likes of Vexovoid
with sickening ease. Avow
wastes no time with frivolous notions or subtle nods at a larger picture, instead the opening “Catafalque” quickly bludgeons, tension seeping through a warped atmosphere and adding a limitus to harmony. At ten minutes the track itself isn’t breaking new ground for a group so adept at throwing gnarled riffs into nth degree madness, but it’s in itself is the longest (traditional) Portal track to date (an exception being “Hexodeus” from Hagbulbia
, released the same day). Tempo maps lay askew as “Catafalque” shifts and winds through riffs and chord progressions, adding return of repetition in the climbing scale of razored tremolo riffs and neck snapping percussive slaps, lighting up the molten corners of its blackened frames. “Eye” heralds in some of the influence of old, a timestamp on the passages that defined the likes of Vexovoid
respectively, wrapped in the bed sheets of modern day metal production. Like always, it’s clear that this Portal record will need a minute to sink in.
From here, Avow
manages to turn up the intensity. “Manor Of Speaking” cultivates pure atmospheric energy, shifting subtle moods on the foundations of slightly slower compositions before lurching the timing and catapulting the listener down a road of impassioned guitar lines, blustering cymbal splashes and vicious growls. The track itself roars across a palette of warbled murk, dissonance and oft running rampant as usual “Portal” practice allows. It’s here that Avow
begins to really take a hold on the foundations of ION
and the mainstay energy of their entire
back catalogue before ascending into the standards long time fans would expect.
’s payoff isn’t immediate. It often takes a matter of introspection and repetition to truly access the worthwhile challenge Portal music has in its core. Chances are you won’t hear everything
on a single, second or even third venture into Avow
’s darker, deeper abode—but there’s an element of continued discovery to be found here. Whether it’s the droning repetition of warbled tremolo found in the album’s first half or the sheer devastation of drum and bass combinations in the devastating closer, “Drain” there’s moments to dive deeper into a chasm of dissonance, tumult and sheer aural devastation, upending the norm of what makes Portal music what it is purely for the sake of it. It’s clear that the group don’t care about maintaining a ‘normal’ grip on their music. Rather they’d stay to twist, manipulate and shave what acclimation listeners would otherwise naturally develop and redefine their own sickening atmosphere along the way.
isn’t at all a clarity measure on the heartstrings of fans and listeners alike. Preferably it’s a limit tester; brought to fruition just to test the bounds of what we can emotionally cater for, break them and desensitize. Avow
runs in a different direction to the other avant extremities the world has yet to offer, a parallel would simply confound and confuse. In this way Portal are their own champions, tested and tried only by themselves in a mirror image, only the reflection isn’t a reflection of the now.