(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Seepia (2003), 7/10
Outre (2007), 6/10
Swarth (2009), 6.5/10
Vexovoid (2013), 6/10
ION (2018), 5/10

Australian outfit Portal delivered the droning and cacophonous Seepia (Profound Lore, 2003), one of the most original death-metal albums since Gorguts, an evil symphony of squealing metallic guitars and spastic blasting drumming performed inside a forest of chaotic guitar noise. Glumurphonel morphs slowly from an electronic vortex into a cacophonous free-jazz assault. The growl and blastbeats death-metal emerge from the most unlikely of premises. Guitar acrobatics highlights the pummeling brevity of Vessel Of Balon. The carpet bombing of Tempus Fugits is buried under a layer of guitar madness and rolling drums. Transcending A Mere Multiverse is hijacked by irregular guitar trajectories. It is often the guitar that keeps the "blast" tempo, letting the drums intone more original patterns. The more moderate Atmosblisters builds up its atmosphere via a more humane growl and tribal drumming. At the other end of the spectrum, there is The Endmills, that descends into pure voiceless cacophony via studio effects and layers of instrumental anarchy.

Outre (Profound Love, 2007) was perhaps less chaotic and dissonant but even more irregular, focusing their superhuman firepower and technique on building up a sheer sense of terror. The vortex that opened the previous album morphs into an even more disturbing nightmare in Moil. It is later reprised with even more tragic overtones in the brief Outre'. The guitar work in Abysmill approached mere abstract soundscaping. Heirships picks up some static noise and builds a complex but agonizing architecture on top of it. There is a bass melody hidden behind the noise that could be from a horror soundtrack. Black Houses leaves a similar "agonizing" feeling, as the music morphs under the thundering weight it is carrying. 13 Globes continues in that direction, progressively loosening its ferocious blastbeats. The seven-minute Sourlows, their longest composition yet, leverages that looser definition of death-metal and their sense of suspense to enter a cinematic dimension, telling the (musical) story rather than just screaming its conclusion. Ordinary blastbeats still rule in Omnipotent Crawling Chaos but the guitar de facto follows a slower, zombie-like tempo that eventually evokes tribal drums next to the blastbeats.

Swarth (Profound Lore, 2009) was another work of pure excess (rhythm, instruments, dynamics) that perfected the previous album's intuition and continued to reivent death-metal. The development of Swarth is jarring and nonlinear, almost stuttering. That segues into the industrialminimalist repetitive patterns of Larvae, coalescing into an unforgiving frenzy. The Swayy, on the other hand, is a mean, percussive wall of sound from beginning to end. However, even the most extreme "death" moments tend to hide countless detours and variations. The granitic core of Writhen is weakened by countless second thoughts: it almost feels like the song never really started. That "indecision" actually makes Omenknow sound more anthemic, with an instrumental middle that works well as a launching pad for the melodramatic ending. A new record of length is set by the eight-minute Werships that begins with maximum suspense driven by intense guitar repetition before the growling voice intones its miserable recitation. Then the song's unity collapses. The seven-minute instrumental Marityme went the opposite way, starting with disjointed counterpoint and then launching into a colossal demonic gallop, possibly the emotional zenith of their career.

In the meantime, Impetuous Ritual, featuring members of Portal, released Relentless Execution Of Ceremonial Excrescence (Profound Lore, 2009).

Portal returned with the brief Vexovoid (Profound Lore, 2013), another dense and frightening experience of blackened death metal. Now a quintet with two guitarists, one more atonal than the other, Portal unleashes the industrial hell of Kilter, whipped by blizzards of repetitive riffs, and assembles the extravagant unstable dynamics of songs like The Back Wards. Tempo shifts abound and disorient. Plasm matches grandiloquent growling with massive distortion, but then it settles on a collective whirling roaring effect leading to a coda of billowing harsh drones like a tidal wave of magma. The blastbeats of Awryeon suddenly stop and concoct a mechanic march of radioactive robots. The relentless firestorm of Curtain dies out in an agonizing coda. Portal are inventive and unpredictable, although they have lost quite a bit of their youthful magnetism

The production is less chaotic on ION (Profound Lore, 2018) so that one can better appreciate the harsh atonality of the guitars, particularly in Esp Ion Age and in the apocalyptic wall of distortion of Spores. The uncontrolled frenzy of Phreqs sounds a bit self-indulgent, but the shredding and demonic Husk is a powerful exorcism. Alas, the lengthy closer Olde Guarde is far less convincing.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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