Portal welcome their fans back into the asylum just in time for their medication.
Words by Sean Wright (@stainedglassrevelation):
“That? What just happened to you there... that's nothing. You've just been playing around with a ghost. Wait 'til somebody lets out the Darkness in this place. That's a whole... that's a whole new bunch of crazy shit,” is what Chris Kattan’s Pritchett said in the criminally underrated 1999 re-make of the Vincent Price classic, House On Haunted Hill. One thing is for sure: when making a reference to fans of the Lovecraftian band known as PORTAL; they LOVE that shit!
Over the last decade, PORTAL have usurped themselves to be one of the more cutting-edge (this is debatable whomever you ask) bands within the underground extreme music realm. These are not the only ones mind you. Others include Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Ulver, Ulcerate, etc. The biggest exception with PORTAL is that they have reached a certain level to not only influence Bandcamp-level bands, but also extend their madness to reach musicians of metal’s upper echelon (Pantera’s Phil Anselmo). They are really the only ones who do what they do rather well, so much so that they’ve helped define what it means to be extreme in the last decade. Like many other bands before them, they are the current evolutionary step in metal’s universal sphere. Slowly but surely, they're crawling towards the ultimate goal of extending the guidance of an ancient cosmic entity and spreading its influence to whomever they wish to possess with zero exclusion. For an experimental death metal band, that’s not a bad feat at all.
I’ll be the first one to admit that Ion (2018), PORTAL’s previous release, was too much of a mindfuck for me to follow. I’m not saying anything in a negative context here, far from it. PORTAL has steadily pushed themselves with each new offering and Ion felt like it was too much for me to mentally handle. That’s a good thing in my book, because it leaves me wanting more time away from everyday activities just so that I can process what the fuck I just heard. PORTAL is not a band known for riffs. That shit is saved for bands who want to induce mosh pits (Member Moshing? Member Concerts? I member!). PORTAL is a band known for music that is beyond twisted and seeps in acidic voices with a cacophony of guitar riffs that are there to only create a sense of dread. The music acts as an archaic zoetrope of flashing images of inhumanly ghastly hallucinations. All one feels is an indescribable void of paranoia and hopelessness.
The first song, Catafalque, starts off with a riff that only PORTAL knows how to create to usher the listeners back into the psychiatric asylum they run. It’s a warped, droning, GROANING sound that drags and then builds up to an explosion of god-knows-fucking-what. If you’re an experienced listener like me, it’s that warm feeling you experience taking the medication The Curator (vocalist) gives you in the little white cup. From there, you become lost within the noise. There is no escape unless you let the music do its thing. You must let it course its way through your circulatory system, crossing the blood-brain barrier and letting it chemically alter your synapses beyond normal-functioning human state. The drums create a hypnotic, sedative effect on your heart while The Curator’s voice in the distance speaks in inhuman tongues. You’re not supposed to understand a fucking word he’s saying. You are simply there to witness the effects because something, somewhere along the line in your life, you had what doctors call “a bad day.” Again, this is just the first song. It’s also a ten minute opener, which is something new for PORTAL at this point. It’s also their longest song.
The next track, Eye (which by now everyone has heard), starts a chain reaction of backwards motioning through PORTAL’s discography. If Catafalque was something that felt it could have easily been off Ion, then Eye could have easily come off 2013’s Vexovoid. Eye is more or less what I would describe as a traditional and straight-forward PORTAL song. In comparison to the previous track, this one is, dare I say, smooth-sailing. Offune offers moments of POSSIBLE headbanging moments. Riff wise, it has this doomy mid-tempo period where it just mentally breaks everything down into a completely hopeless and depressive state.
Manor of Speaking starts off with an off-tune riff that drags for what seems like an eternity and then explodes into a violent maelstrom of hellish noise. At this point, the drugs you took are reaching a bit of a peak. Manor has a moment of actual cohesive sanity, but it doesn’t last for more than say, fifteen to thirty seconds, and it’s back into the warped maze of torment that PORTAL have musically re-defined with their own design for the listener to try and navigate through. Bode continues the downtrodden path of insanity and is a mere extension of Manor in terms of mid-tempo drum patterns and cymbal crashes. The sixth and final song, aptly name Drain, perfectly describes how the listener feels at this point: fucking drained. If I were to take a break from trying to best articulate Avow at this point, it’s how I feel. The ass-kicker here is that Drain comes to an abrupt end in absolute silence at the five minute and twenty second mark. It leaves the listener numbed out wondering what the hell just happened in a totally confused and disoriented state, wondering if the visions will come back again. Rest assured, they will.
One of the biggest stand-outs from Avow is the sound production. That was always something that felt out-of-sequence with PORTAL, especially with Ion, where the guitar mix was too high and had almost no bass. Vexovoid felt like the guitars were too mixed in with the bass. In my opinion, Avow feels more in touch with the sound production they had on 2008’s Outre. Only this time, it's even better.
Avow is a much-needed album in 2021 to give the year a stimulating boost. PORTAL have not reinvented themselves, nor are they determined to go past their own limitations, even if their music seems limitless. They have only one mission: to drive the mad sane and to drive the sane mad. Abandon all hope, ye who enter.
Avow arrives on May 28th via Profound Lore Records. Order your copy HERE.