Truly mystifying and terrifying bands are few and far between now in metal, which is pretty sad. Problem is, there’s so much music out there and so many bands, most of which are very accessible and open on social media, that there isn’t any room for mystique. It’s cool seeing real people doing real things, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for terror.
This is something Australian death beasts Portal long have understood. Yeah, you might think a band donning dark cloaks and a singer with a goddamn cuckoo clock on his head might be gimmicky, and you’re not wrong, but there’s way more to it than that. They crush you under waves of mystery, and their music long has stood out as some of the grainiest, devastating, and oppressive in all of death metal. But something happened along the way. Tons of other bands caught onto their sound, so much so that the band’s brand of noise-marred death is practically known as the Portal sound. Those bands are fucking everywhere now, but no matter. Portal, those hidden maulers, have other tricks up their sleeves. In fact, if you ever saw the band live, you understand just how mind-blowing and proficient the figures—vocalist the Curator, guitarists Horror Illogium and Aphotic Mote, bassist Omenous Fugue, and drummer Ignis Fatuus— are as players and how incredibly talented they are. You get a deep dose of that on their astonishing fifth record “ION,” a nine-track, 37-minute document of terror that is astonishing for many reasons. For one, the songs are not baked with noise, nor do they sound like they emanate from a dank basement. Also, it truly gives the listener a view into just how intensely powerful these cloaked beings are as performers, a fact that hammers you over and over again on this album.
Opener “Nth” is the gateway to hell, a quick intro cut constructed of weird noise scrapes and eerie transmissions, then it’s into “Esp Ion Age” that just goes off the fucking rails. The guitars burst into a cloud of confusion, while the Curator’s vocals sound like they’re worm holing through your head and deep into your brain. The track’s elements fold all over themselves, while the back end of the song melts your mind and fades out fast. “Husk” is destructive from the start, letting guitars race in circles, and the tempos charge into a wall. The vocals peels away the skin, while the pace is delirious, practically causing you motion sickness. “Phreqs” is the first cut the band released to the world, and it rips your insides apart, as evil growls crawl toward you, guitars create a tornado into the afterworld, and the frenetic pace causes panic. Riffs peel off and leave noxious fumes, while the song boils into formless madness, and monstrous noises grinds out. “Crone” has aching strings and guitars sparking, practically bleeding oil, and then things gets shredded. The fury is dizzying, while the growls fold in, with the Curator repeatedly inviting, “Breathe the sickness.”
“Revault of Volts” opens in thick humidity, while the playing bashes away at your bones, and the drumming tries to turn you into paste. Howled, hissed vocals snake toward your mind, with the guitars wrapping themselves around them, jarring and spinning and spilling into a vortex. “Spores” is a drill eating ferociously into the middle of the Earth. This isn’t one for those who get anxiety from penetrating drone, as this song moves at one pace, consistently and violently, with guitars splattering and churning, and the vocals sucking up the blood. “Phathom” has riffs rippling, causing seismic waves, as everything spills like guts, growls begin to spurt plasma, and the end pounds relentlessly before ending suddenly. “Olde Guarde” is the 9:44 closer, and it tears open right away, with guitars destroying and confounding, and a thunderous, devastating pace taking hold. The music creates a thick soot, while the Curator moans and wails his way into the ugliness. The chaotic frenzy suddenly dissipates, overtaken by strange noises that sound like they’ve been created by ghosts, and then an oddly mournful passage emerges. A cosmic star bath floods over, and the record ends in the strangest way possible—in the arms of serenity.
As long as Portal stand as a unit, they’re likely to always shield their true selves from their audience. That’s part of the allure for these guys, though the most important aspect is they make unreal records such as “ION.” This already is a high watermark for death metal this year, and it reestablishes these guys as the masters over all who have followed and emulated their sound. These are the faces of fear, and it’s even more terrifying that we’ll never get to even see them.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PORTALDEATH/
To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/