The collective malformity known as Portal have now returned from the netherworld (or Brisbane, Australia as it’s also known) with their latest malignant threnody entitled Vexovoid. One of the more severe attractions from Profound Lord’s indomitable stable, Portal—comprising five charming gentlemen known only by convoluted pseudonyms, their identities shrouded by executioner masks, and sometimes even a grandfather clock in the case of vocalist The Curator—have summoned an ungodly cult following over the course of their 18 year existence.
Emerging beyond the subterranean extreme metal consciousness with their second LP Outre’, released in 2007 by the already well-established Profound Lord, Portal’s unorthodox amalgam of mysterious aesthetics, cavernous death metal, black metal’s atmospheric decay, and the perverse tonality of the avant-garde, plagued those foolish enough to expose their psyches to the terror this band evoked. Outre’ received critical acclaim, and as a consequence, Portal’s 2003 debut Seepia was re-mastered and re-released in 2008, with the writhing pandemonium of Swarth closely following suit in 2009, both of which were devoured by an eager, ever-growing audience.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact essence of what makes Portal so appealing to those outside the deepest reaches of death metal’s underground when sonically they sound so pitiless—but maybe that’s the charm. There is nothing welcoming found within the horror-scapes and gruesome murk, yet Portal continue to thrive with Vexovoid, their much anticipated metal release for early 2013. Adorned with Reverend Kriss Hades’s depiction of an array of probing tentacles centred by a brain; the booklet itself made from vellum—an under-utilized, archaic canvas made from calfskin; one which may send PETA into hysteria—the music of Vexovoid is akin to its artwork: an intellectual and monstrous creation of the bizarre.
Throughout this record, Portal’s aural disharmony constantly pushes the limits of the listener to breaking point, and because of the magnetism of the songwriting and the sheer power of this record’s production, which coagulates the instrumentation into one heaving organism, Portal furrow further inside your headspace than ever before to unearth a surreal realm of Lovecraftian proportions. “Kilter” sets this abomination of your senses in motion through alternating, incongruent sequences of disorientating blasts with the Curator’s dry, serpentine growl crawling between the relentless instrumentation. Right from the start it becomes clear that there is method to the sonic madness of Vexovoid, and Portal have been meticulous when it comes to arranging each song. “The Back Wards” and “Plasm” drone with the subsonic bass taking the charge, complimented by a sinister streak that is reminiscent of Mayhem’s avant-garde black metal masterwork, Ordo Ad Chao. While songs the quality of “Curtain” are allowed to pulse and breathe organically, as the hellacious passages are given space to seemingly subside at will before returning with greater repetitious force.
It’s this extreme balance between order and chaos found within Portal’s mastery of dynamics which leaves the feeling that the listener is constantly being toyed with. The warped death metal of “Awyreon” increases the intensity of the blasting riff variations almost to the point of apoplexy, and the shorter but no less shattering “Orbmorphia” whips up a bass-heavy maelstrom full of tangible riffs and fork-tongued vocals—the Curator’s Attila Csihar-worthy performance is terrifying overall.
Vexovoid justifies the hype hoisted upon Portal’s shrouded shoulders, and through the cerebral nature of the songwriting, which suppresses the band’s urge to just bludgeon wildly, this record is as multidimensional as Portal have ever sounded. This enigmatic band, along with disciples Mitochrondrion and Antediluvian, are leading the way through death metal’s blackened underbelly. Slither on fellas.