Genre: Experimental Death Metal
Label: Profound Lore Records
Portal is surely among the bands I had the hardest time getting into and still I don’t browse through their back catalogue very much, while I’m always keen in listening their new efforts. No Portal album has ever blown me away, even though I’m fond of their theatrics and that’s a reason I would like to see them live. I doubt anyone has ever casually liked the band in the conventional manner, yet their cult following consider them the most forward thinking act out there. This is a band with such a murky sound, as well as peculiar technical repertoire, showcasing something you haven’t seen before in death metal.
“Ion” first of all possesses clear enough production, which makes the guitars highly audible and very edgy. It is described by ugliness and discomfort, mainly caused by the special attitude towards the sense of songwriting. Older Portal fans should know what I’m talking about, as the band’s main weapon is it’s asymmetric and atonal compositional style, mathematically spewing filthy riffs in constantly changing tempos that literally make you anxious when listening. The guitars are more to the front with this new record and less effort has been paid towards creating soundscapes as in the previous albums, I feel like the guitar lines are reaching the speakers in a more distinct way in the whole of “Ion”.
Of course, there are noise elements and harsh samples used in the record, which also sometimes promotes the guitars themselves in this position (for example, in the track “Spores”). Apart from that, you can listen to Portal meddling with sound effects in the introduction and in the beginning of “Crone”. Every melody is cut abruptly, and the speeds are ever changing, giving out a paranoid structure, which one’s brain can’t easily digest, like looking at house designs of contemporary architects in this day and age.
If you examine the riffs themselves, or the various ideas the band has one by one, in my opinion they haven’t ever written something remarkable, as they’re purely walking on already known black / death territory. However, the shape of their music is unique and what makes them special. I should additionally remark how I don’t get these whispering / growling vocals at all. They’re not adding anything to the record, while at times it feels as they were volume up in the production to be audible, and it’s something Portal do in all their albums. As they do in every aspect of their music, they follow their own will with how to deal with the vocals too, but I just would prefer otherwise.
The band often closes with a longer track and this time they did the same with the nine-minute nightmare “Olde Guarde”, whose half part is just eerie dark ambient / noise closing the record. “Ion” has superb artwork how its title is written also gives out the band’s nature. “Revault of Volts” was one track that stuck in my mind due to it’s epic ending, and apart from that “Phantom” and “ESP ION AGE” are good numbers to give you an idea about the record. For me, “Ion” is not lighter than previous Portal offerings but it has more clear characteristics and it’s not as static, not suffering from blurry production.
The label of experimental death metal is rightfully theirs and it’s a fact that many bands have failed miserably in trying to recreate such an atmosphere. I can’t discern the path of the band all these years or if “Ion” is a strong point, yet it was in a sense, a less cloudy record that I could listen whole and appreciated after a few listens. Portal are much more difficult to follow than the average death metal band and this release might be the best headache I ever had.