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Album Reviews : Portal – ION

By on March 4, 2018

Many bands seek to inspire horror in their listeners. Very few achieve this to the degree that Portal has been in their years of creating their truly unique style of music. ION is the name of their most recent album, released five years after their previous, Vexovoid. The tracks on ION are a little shorter than on Vexovoid, but they are in no way any less horrific, chaotic or impactful.

The intro sets up the album perfectly, in that it is atmospheric but not overly dramatic. Anyone that has listened to Portal will probably know they seek to capture the atmosphere of the universe created by HP Lovecraft. They do this in a way that is not at all gimmicky. There are no cheesy movie samples or out of place synths. The music sounds as if it were created by an actual monster from these stories, rising from some unknown depths, totally unpredictable and untethered.

If I was to choose a track to show someone to introduce them to this album, it would be “Phreqs”. It features two sides of Portal that I love. The beginning 2 minutes or so of the track are quite fast. Blast beats and insane, atonal riffing. From here it moves into slower, pounding drums and pitch bending, moaning guitars that somehow work. Honestly, sometimes it seems like this album shouldn’t sound as good as it does. On their own, I imagine some of the guitar riffs would sound ridiculous. But with everything together it just works. Each track offers a different mix of what I described above, but in unique ways so that they each stand out on their own. They all have the Portal sound but do not sound like repetitions of each other.

The track “Spores” is territory I would love to see Portal make more use of. It could almost be described as harsh noise, with steady blast beats and what sounds like whispers or screams buried somewhere. It’s quite short at two and a half minutes. I would love to hear more Portal tracks or sections like this in the future.

As for the instruments, the drums are absolutely pummelling. They are usually blasting at full speed or playing fill after fill. Occasionally they slow down for more monotonous or doomy parts like the second half of “Phreqs” or the middles section of “Olde Guarde”. As far as I can tell, there are no triggers on the drums and very little reverb, save for some snare reverb during slower sections.

The guitars are, as always, frantic and chaotic. It can take a few listens to fully absorb and remember what is going on. There are no catchiness or tasteful leads, only ugly, dissonant riffing. Attend a live performance of theirs so you can see the guitarist’s hands bend and stretch at seemingly impossible angles on their 8 string guitars. The bass is a key aspect of what holds the music together. While the guitars are going nuts, the bass can be heard playing something easier to follow. Having this steady foundation, I think, allows the guitars to play what they do while still producing something that could be called a song. A good example of this is the slower section of Phreqs where the bass can be heard playing a steady, in tune riff underneath the dissonant guitars.

Finally, the vocals. The vocal style is what really helps create the atmosphere. It is not a growl or a shriek. Raspy is the word that comes to mind, like a whisper but louder and much, much stronger. Portal has no problem with instrumental tracks or passages, but when the vocals are present they definitely take the focus.

The overall production is amazing. Everything is so clear without sounding overly edited or produced. Each note of the guitar can be heard and every drum beat felt. The person behind the production knew Portal’s music well and knew how to bring out the best of it. The album art deserves a mention too. I’m no art critic, but the electric storm seems to capture the feel of the album well.

I can safely say Portal absolutely nailed it with this album. I have not stopped listening to it since I began and I have no plans to. Anyone who is a fan of Portal is sure to be satisfied. Anyone that has not yet heard them, I suggest you listen to the track “Phreqs” and begin your new life where Portal is the soundtrack to your descent into madness.

Band: Portal
Album: ION
Year: 2018
Genre: Extreme Metal
Label: Profound Lore Records / Nerve Gas
Origin: Australia