Oracles of abstract visual and sonic horror, Portal have, across a divisive discography and their ceremonial live shows, created their own infamy. Some venerate the band as post-Incantation innovators who have popularised cavernous-sounding death metal by pairing it with Lovecraftian dread. Others dismiss Portal’s music as overhyped noise, claiming they’re simply skilled at shrouding a lack of substance in creepy black metal aesthetics. Portal’s fifth full-length, ION, may win over some of the naysayers, but it also risks the possibility of alienating their less open-minded followers. ION is a bold departure for the Brisbane-based surrealists, who are known for putting heavy emphasis on dense, choking atmospheres. Their new album removes the coagulated murk synonymous with their probing and pulsating sound – so much so that on first listen it feels like you’ve been given an unmixed demo recording. Since the production is as bone-dry as one of The Curator’s serpent rasps, it makes for a jarring experience until you acclimatise and consider their experimentations, following which a better understanding of the finger-mangling technicality of their musicianship forms. Immediately, however, you’ll notice that the guitars of Horror Illogium and Aphotic Mote are high on skronk and have very little low-end, yet the music somehow remains disorientating and paralysingly extreme. This stylistic shift makes Portal sound like Voivod being strangulated by the oily tentacles of some unnamed entity during the destructive dissonance of Husk and the equally frenzied Revault Of Volts – a fascinating development that should hook in fans of Khthoniik Cerviiks or Howls Of Ebb. Also of interest is how Portal’s tempo changes have become way more volatile and jolting than before. Whether the daring ION is a glimpse into Portal’s future direction or merely an experimental side-step is unclear, but at the very least this enigmatic band should be praised for having the temerity to utilise divergent thinking when they could have easily remained time-trapped within their crepuscular grandfather clock.
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