Portal is one of the few blackened-death metal bands capable of producing horror. Their music embodies so much terror, blurring and contorting in pure insanity, making them one of the most unique bands around. Their previous record, Vexovoid, masterfully captures all these qualities, being one of the darkest records in recent years. Now five years later, Portal release their fifth studio LP, Ion. Does the record live up to the technical proficiency and horror of their past work? No, not even close.
What makes a Portal record truly unique is the combination of their technical compositions, along with the emotions that come out of them. The band’s use of low-tempos, warped guitar rhythms and melodies, along with monstrous vocals are ever-present throughout Ion. The music contains a strong mentality of chaos, but with only some of the songs offering anything drastically impressive. What holds Portal back is how each track follows an identical progression. Compared to their previous records, Ion doesn’t include that much use of murky, horror-fueled anxieties that have made their past material truly scary. Even though there is some range in technicality, what’s offered is quite slim, and gives the same sort of feeling in every song. This presents an overall repetitive nature that stops the album from ever attaining any grand identity for each one of its tracks.
“ESP ION AGE” immediately explodes with rapid shredding and blast beats. The thrashing whips around, cutting and gnawing away as it whirls about. Numerous tempo shifts come in and out of the progression, making for a solid opening. This instrumentation continues right into “Husk”, only taking the briefest of pauses. There’s a deeper tone to the guitar, bringing out some of that iconic murkiness Portal is known for. The instrumentation is still wild as it tosses about, but with some minor adjustments to the sound’s brightness, it just feels like a continuation of the same thing we just heard. On their own, each one of these songs is a rush of pure adrenaline, riding on manic energy. But all together, they really blur into one another, the little technical instrumental changes only helping in the slightest.
“Crone”, while keeping to the insanity of the instrumentals, takes on a slower approach. Once again bringing out some murkiness, it works in creating a difference between all the other work that also takes on the brutal momentum of shredding. “Spores” is a primarily instrumental track, taking the grinding chaos we’ve heard in previous tracks, and multiplying it ten-fold. The song is crazy in its use of ballistic drumming and distorting guitar work, producing a genuine feeling of madness that the band is so well known for. By acting as a full-power drive in instrumental force, without much pause for vocals, the material is able to stand apart from the other songs that offer a generic drive in rage. “Olde Guarde”, provides a similar structure we’ve heard in previous tracks. By the halfway point, the material drops into this ominous droning of creepy sounds; this would have fit better towards the beginning, for the ending leaves much to be desired.
Honestly, Ion is a step down for Portal. The moments of murky sounds that pop up there and then no way touch the horror element that has made the Portal discography so interesting. The band clearly knows how to play their instruments (producing such heavily disorienting tones), but it all becomes generic fast. Even the vocals bring nothing new to the table, offering a bland delivery of growls. Ion is a decent record for a couple songs, all before everything becomes far too predictable.