Portal – Ion

Newer metal bands in the mid-2000s went one of few ways: the competition among users of extreme techniques caused a degree of one-upmanship that obscured the message of the music of “technical” bands, while the desire to get the audience to move caused the compositions of -core bands to be infiltrated by danceable open-note rhythms, and those left outside these groups grew more and more abstract in execution as if to rebel against conventional songwriting.  The issue here is that all three avenues, despite the latter being the most declarative, require an aesthetic sleight-of-hand to mask the lack of authoritative message in composition while the music is steered with the effects on the listener in mind rather than coming from the innate desire of a composer to communicate.  Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.  A challenge in viewing bands like this objectively is that it is difficult to fully understand whether the intent is holistically realized or if the sound and execution is the result of having no spirit of communication beyond purely aesthetic virtues.  Perhaps the evolution in sound was the understanding that metal did need to progress, and although there were surely undiscovered ways to do so, an analysis of all prior compositions reveal that metal was comprised of a multitude of expressions utilizing the same symbols: songs needed intros, various types of phrases that build tension, bridges, climaxes, and resolutions, and the catalog of conventional music that we have is constructed of various shufflings of these elements.  So, although a new act could in theory have a unique approach to music, they were essentially draping a new skin on a tired skeleton.  Metal, and music in general, had to go somewhere and it had to be led by someone that had a clear vision of something to communicate. And most importantly, it had to be done so without a reliance on the tropes that human nature has formulated with respect to the idea of song; ultimately, it needed to cripple it from within.

Is Portal the band to breach these waters, or are the efforts of the band a reflection of a lack of having anything to say intrinsically while still being able to coast on a formulaic command of discordant textures where fully realized phrases once guided the listener through a narrative journey?

It is difficult to say- we are now five full-length releases into the band’s catalog and the overall approach has not changed, which could either display an authoritative control on creative pursuits or the scraping of a fully-cashed barrel when the need to release something recorded arises.  If I were to make a conventional comparison for those unfamiliar with the band, imagine the trance-like elements of Transilvanian Hunger but instead of the command of majestic melody anchored by an unrelenting pulse, Portal’s sound is that of a bag of potato chips being crumpled in each of your ears over blast-beating drums and occasional tribal passages.  The aforementioned symbols present in musical tropes such as climax and resolution that anchor structuring are mostly thrown by the wayside in favor of undulating waves of ebb and flow.  Most of the guitar work is a tremolo-picked nightmare that gives strident middle-fingers to the idea of space or dynamics.  Resembling a spontaneous overgrowth of virulent flora where your only respite comes in the form of tempo-shifts which still carry a never ending tremolo-picked barrage, the music unfortunately becomes a dull wallpaper as your ears adjust to the extremity and ultimately leave you unmoved by material that should be holistically disturbing.  Prior to this release, thematic presence was essentially limited to one memorable phrase in the song “13 Globes” on Outre (their second full-length), and here on Ion there is an effort, albeit a very minimal one, to anchor the occasional track with a dynamic passage, such as the insectile climax (!) of “Phreqs” and the shambling final passages of “Olde Guarde.” What further makes this release a bit more palatable is the use of standard tuning which contrasts greatly with their previous reliance on down-tuned eight-string guitars, and coupled with their best production yet, the material is almost vibrant, at least as much as the band would want it to be.  Despite everything being audible for the first time, the issue with the approach of the band is that the nature of their attack presents an inversion of metal listening in that you look for the vocals to anchor the songs as the music fades into the background.  Portal needs to understand that you can be psychologically horrifying without amplifying your presence in a way that develops a plague on dynamism and melodic construction. Given that those elements of musical communication are dependent on a human variable they are most likely neglected by the band on purpose, but to the metal listener who has encountered concrete yet sublime expressions in extreme acts this approach will leave a lot to be desired.

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21 thoughts on “Portal – Ion

  1. Necronomeconomist says:

    I love it that Jerry Haupa took this one. Another well-reasoned and non-emotional review, unlike past reviewers penchants to wish horrible deaths on Bad Bands.

    I wonder about this:
    “Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.”

    Could you elaborate on how we can know this? I haven’t heard Ulcerate, but I fucked with early Portal a bit, and Deathspell Omega a bit with ‘Kenose’ and ‘Si Monvmentvm Requirus whatever’. Yes, chaotic often bordering on nonsensical. I didn’t sense that it was entirely rooted in audience manipulation, or that “the music is steered with the effects on the listener in mind rather than coming from the innate desire of a composer to communicate.”
    It seemed possible that the composers, especially with the aesthetic/theological intricacy of DSO, were motivated by that innate desire.

    1. Elephant Man says:

      Agreed, I wish Jerry reviewed everything actually. Like theneedledrop except it’s Jerry and he isn’t reviewing a bunch of rap and indie nonsense. Make it happen Jerry! I’d be willing to donate to keep content like this going.

      1. Robert says:

        Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

    2. Neato says:

      Allow me to translate. Reviewer: I don’t like it therefore it is bad because the creator is bad.

      I don’t like Brahms but that has nothing to do with Brahms being a drunk. While it would make for effective rhetoric it’s a stand in for insightful criticism that honestly measures one’s own internal response. It’s a bit unfortunate because the review does express the reviewers valuations through comparison to stuff he likes in some metal music in order to ground where he finds the release wanting. However he doesn’t take possession of those valuations and instead jury-rigs them to abstract notions of whatever metal is in his head to pass it all off as something more than his irreducibly subjective judgments. Which is just a bit ironic given that the abstract is just as subjective as the way one feels about something.

      1. Jerry Hauppa says:

        That’s not at all what I said. In fact, I do like the album. I was reviewing it based on its objective construction, and I’ve heard and enjoyed superficially each of their records. This may be their best one, but the point of the review is that their records only have superficial merit and lack dynamics, proper conflict or resolution of any kind.

        1. Bill Hopkins says:

          Then why don’t you defend what you like?

          1. Jerry Hauppa says:

            Because it doesn’t matter what I like. My job here isn’t to make this a personal blog, but to objectively dissect metal releases. I like a lot of super shitty horror movies too, but I’m not going to join a movie review site and call them fine cinema.

            1. taller more autistic looking man says:


            2. Neato says:

              That’s really gay. Objective discussion of art really misses the point anyway.

              1. 12tonehead says:

                Gay? Is that your best shot ?

  2. Dirk says:

    Great insight by the author, thanks!:
    “Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.”

  3. Mister Syre says:

    This album really leads nowhere and it might be both its best and worst quality.

  4. NWN War Metal Tranny Rapist says:

    Good analysis. This is shemale music!

  5. Exfoliation says:

    I think 1972-75 Devo is better dress up wonky music than this, same gimmicky shit but Devo says cunt and nigger in their songs making them automatically better, Portals idea.of weird is OoOoh big spiders and Saw puppets, so uncreative and nu metal

    1. Portal sucks says:

      There whole gimmick looks like a Korn shirt came to life.

  6. 12Tonehead says:

    Hello there, I’ve been reading the site for a while, along with a few others, and keep coming back here, because of some… kinship, I dunno exactly, and then, today, I see why I may be liking this place more than others, thanks to Jerry here when he writes: “it doesn’t matter what I like. My job here isn’t to make this a personal blog, but to objectively dissect metal releases”. Although this may seem pretty obvious, it strikes me as profoundly relevant. Most reviews painfully lack in the objectivity department, which I find frustrating. Once I raised the issue in the comment section at AMG, and Druhm lectured me about the inherent subjectivity of metal blogging. Keep up the great work.

    1. Neato says:

      If you can’t see the absurdity and contradiction inherent in claiming to only objectively discuss music while offering personal value judgements then welcome to the kinship of the woefully unreflective.

      1. 12tonehead says:

        This is not what I said and not what Jerry wrote. There is value in trying to go beyond pure subjective response, in order to capture something that might be of interest. Example: someone may initially dislike, say, Suffocation, and develop an interest through an objective analysis of riffing techniques, which may in turn influence the person’s appreciation of the band. Another example, from the art world, Barnett Newman, responding to some guy claiming Franz Kline’s paintings were “all the same” and therefore boring, is reported to have asked the person in question to actually explain to him the sameness in question, fostering a process of objective description of the actual canvases, which led to the realization of a huge variety… See where Im going here?

        1. Neato says:

          I dunno dude I already gave you the courtesy of reading all of what you wrote last time. Won’t get fooled again.

      2. taller more autistic looking man says:

        piss off

  7. Claudia Soulroth says:

    You have to be a massive dipshit to pretend liking this overly stylized crap. Even Nespithe wasn’t weird for the sake of weird all the time.

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