Portal 'Avow' Extreme Metal Aberration on Their Sixth Album

BY Max HeilmanPublished May 26, 2021

Everyone acknowledged Portal as trailblazers once they dropped Swarth in 2009 and Vexovoid four years later, but these Australian maniacs have spent over 25 years pushing the envelope. They approach extreme metal like an impressionist painter, illustrating vistas of cosmic horror with mutated riffs and cavernous vocals. No one could expect accessibility from a band that adopts stage names like Horror Illogium and takes the stage dressed like a grandfather clock, but Portal's music remained nigh impenetrable until 2018's ION. Portal's true genius began to escape from their sonic vortex — aptly setting up Avow to take a strikingly direct approach to a sound of such obscure repute.

This album's discernibility is obviously relative to Portal's brand of terrifying cacophony. Opener "Catafalque" certainly proves as unfriendly as ever, with blast beats, tremolo-picked guitars and ghastly vocals generating utter insanity. Nonlinear rhythms and ascending chromatic tempests inexplicably start to sound like a sports car shifting gears, introducing violent, grating hypnosis to contrast ION's breakneck unpredictability. The filth-crusted dirge of "Eye" doubles down on this balance of avant-garde metal and dark ambient, with lumbering drums and droning, atonal guitars embodying a spiritual black hole.

These slower passages balance well with the frenzied chaos, deepening Avow's impact. A cut like "Offune" transforms its initial wall of surging sound into its closing abyssal misery, as Portal gradually take the wind out of their sails in an immersive exercise in deceleration. These fluctuating tempos directly contrast with death metal's usual grid-locked precision, while songs like "Manor of Speaking" reveal more of Portal's stylistic lineage — specifically, New York death metal legends Incantation. Unorthodox chords and inhuman growls aside, the bulk of this song offers a surprisingly recognizable rhythm structure before its final quarter becomes a horrific soundscape of textural anti-riffs.

In a genre bred for its scare factor, Portal remain a final boss of aural aberration. It's hard not to think of Cthulhu emerging from cyclopean ruins when "Bode" slowly materializes its ominous arrangement. The band practically engage in psychological warfare, building tension with repetitive death meditations before barreling into an all-out assault. The fact this album isn't as technical as ION stops mattering once the nuance of these wretched sounds set in. There's a reason closing cut "Drain" can spend two minutes wandering through catacombs of low-end noise before falling into a demonic waltz. Every crushing chug or flesh-ripping avalanche has its place in the world-crushing whole.

Where ION kept up its riff-a-minute onslaught from start to finish, Avow allows more time for songs to breathe. Portal milk these ideas for their entire worth of atmospheric pandemonium, drilling their uncompromising, nonconformist motifs straight into the soul. Like the awakening of the Great Old Ones, Avow finds sanity crumbling before the dawn of primordial, unknowable fear.
(Profound Lore)

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