Five albums into their career, it would seem that I am late to the Portal party. Finding little distinctive or compelling to listen to on ION, I guess I would be the guy who just does not ‘get it’ about this band.
Portal play an indistinctive combination of black metal and death metal (though not really, as we shall see) that lacks technicality and originality in equal part. They have that lo-fi ‘blackened’ sound going just fine. Let no one say Portal do not know how to tell a producer to boost the mids and roll off the lows. The same producer buried the vocals in the mix and added enough reverb to make them indistinct from an obscene phone-caller’s perverted whispering. He could be singing about Satan and Cthulhu, or it could have been about how much vegemite (purely blackened, no doubt) is on his grocery shopping list for all we could tell, and in the end, does it really matter?
The guitarists do the tremolo-picking, and the drummer ham-fistedly hammers away with that too-slow-for-grindcore beat that we used to call ‘steak-kniving’ in the 90s (on account of the drummer looking like he is trying to cut a tough piece of meat). Taking all of these points into consideration, one can conclude Portal have little to offer that dozens of other bands do not.
ION has a couple of aspects that save it from complete ‘do not care’ status. “Phreqs” and “Olde Guarde” use pure guitar noise in places where other bands would have put guitar solos; “Olde Guard” in particular closes the album with some lengthy passages of pure noise, almost musique concrète in style. “Revault of Volts” features some squiggly guitar gestures that serve as musical ‘speed bumps’ in the tradition of Morbid Angel. Other than that, ION sounds like one unending song. Every time I listened to this album, I found myself caught in moments when I was not paying attention and had to check iTunes™ to see if the song had changed, and more often than not, it had changed more than once.
There is more to black metal than Satan, Lovecraft (the favorite author of people who never actually read anything by him), playing really fast, raspy vocals, deliberate dissonance, and lo-fi recording. It is an established style that has room for musical excellence in the ashes of many burnt churches. Other than the noise pedigree, Portal do not reach that place of excellence on ION. Forget Portal’s pretenses of combining this with traditional death metal or any claims to being technical; those are just words used for the cognitive dissonance hiding Portal’s main oeuvre: really uninteresting black metal.
I envisioned myself picking up this album and trying to throw it through a Portal that had a sign over it reading ‘Album Of The Year’…and missing; not getting anywhere near that mark would be the band’s fault alone.
Notable Tracks: “Olde Guarde”; “Phreqs”; “Revault of Volts”
FFO: Abyssal, Ulcerate