Review Summary: sweyy[g]
Portal have always had a transcendent presence about them. Like primordial beings willed into existence by nature itself, there is a weight to their music, and almost a feeling of hearing something that wasn’t meant to be heard. Their cloaked visages and otherworldly sounding names – Omenous Fugue and Ignis Fatuus, for example - only perpetuate this feeling, as does the mysteriousness in which the band operate. The aesthetic they’ve cultivated is equally as alluring as it is alienating, and undoubtedly how they’ve managed to slowly accrue a following over the years, collecting acolytes drawn to a sound they crave but can’t quite comprehend.
The group’s earlier work portrayed the band at their most antediluvian. Their first record Seepia
is their most straightforwardly death metal but had an uncomfortable, spectral quality about it. Follow-ups Outre'
honed the debut’s eccentricities into warped collages of death and black metal, terrifying in their own right yet encrusted in enough grime to conceal the true horror that still lay beneath. And while Vexovoid
was a more lateral move that did little to enrich the band’s artistry, 2018’s Ion
at long last revealed Portal’s compositions for what they really were; faceless, tendrilled behemoths with limbs contorting into shapes so unnatural the more you attempted to figure them out the more they refused to make sense. It was genuinely shocking to finally experience the level of technicality and depth Portal had been quietly shouldering under all those layers of murk.
, despite feeling less revelatory than its predecessor, feels no less essential. This is Portal at their best, and though we may have better view of the mechanics behind their sound, it’s clear we are no closer to understanding how they actually work. In fact, the clarity often makes their music even more unnerving. “Offune” plays out as if Incantation traded in their guitars for hornet’s nests; the riffs buzz and swarm, a thousand fluttering notes filling up each corner of the track as the remaining instruments plod away in a doomy dirge. Though the virtuosity of the band – particularly guitarists Horror Illogium and Aphotic Mote – is not up for debate, their proficiency is never showy or ostentatious. Rather it manifests in moments that seem innocuous at first glance, but upon repeated listens slowly reveal how demanding they truly are, and there is something sinister about how they hide their skill in plain sight.
Like previous releases, Avow
maintains the arcane exuberance Portal has been known to imbue their music with; it’s ritualistic, but not in a primitive or chaotic way. “[It’s] definitely structured with deliberation” Illogium stated in a 2014 interview with Vice. It’s clear this ethos is still practiced by the band in 2021. In “Eye” the guitars slink higher towards complete disarray before being grounded into a cavernous churn by drummer Ignis Fatuus’s simplistic and brutal percussion. It’s done in a very calculated way yet feels organic, and the payoff from experiencing the ratcheting tension drop into subterranean riffage just can’t be explained.
There is an unnatural ambiance in the backdrop of every track, residual energies of the instrumentals that have a taken a life of their own and exude a subtle yet palpable sense of dread that can be felt across the record. It isn’t the only fear-inspiring element of Avow
however; as always, frontman and clock-adorned front-entity The Curator remains the arbiter of black magick invocations. Avow
places his guttural roar front and center, and while that in itself is cause for hair to stand on end, it’s the knowing way in which he delivers esoteric spells that really induces dread. “Ewe of Riven Deeps Ascend/Moor Overt Befoul” he forcefully chants in “Manor of Speaking”, the themes of ritual sacrifice bleeding through the track, while “Drain” reads like instructional tome of what to do with the aforementioned viscera.
The most impressive aspect of Avow
is how complete it feels. From the music, to the vocals, to the artwork, Portal have cultivated an aesthetic consistent to the album as well as their own internal mythos. There is no doubt or hesitation in what they do, just the unwavering vision to create extreme metal that bows to their will alone, refusing to bend the knee for any trend or passing fad. The consistency in which they approach their horror-themed craft has enshrined their discography as some kind of singularity, often imitated but never, ever