Portal – Avow Review

Before Ion, we thought we had Portal figured out. The kings of murk would release another album of slogging dissonance, just like Swarth or Vexovoid. However, taking the path of least resistance or going with ol’ reliable has never been the esoteric Australian collective’s way, and we were greeted with Ion, a big obscure middle finger to the masses in their abruptly clearest and most pristine listen. In spite of the almost complete abandonment of murk, Ion adhered to their signature impenetrability, creating one of the most challenging listens in recent memory and showcasing that they weren’t just some disso-death one-trick pony. Avow reminds us that Portal is still king.

Never forsaking their trademark surreal and abstract atmosphere, Avow once again provides clarity and disgust amid Portal’s garbled catalog. Spearheaded by The Curator’s formidably fiery subterranean sermons and backed by a cast equally baffling and abstract, Avow offers an attack that bridges the barbed clarity of Ion and the murky depth of Outre. Opener “Catafalque” showcases this balance as a cabinet of curiosities exhibit, its strange riffs morphing from flaying to unsettling – otherworldly, surreal, and undeniably Portal. The sixth installment in the ongoing foray into madness, Avow is another addition to their bulletproof, ironclad discography, and sets itself apart with its lethal shift from devastating experimental insanity to brooding, metamorphosing patience.

It feels unfair to label any of the band’s music as a listening experience, because, true to its name, Portal has always felt like a place. Avow is a dark and gloomy environ, a thalassophobic dread that washes over the brain. The atmosphere’s churning and rumbling reflects an oceanic and fluid weight better than its Lovecraftian and chthonic lyrics ever could, as the relentless dissonance is paired with undercurrents of gnashing terror and portentous dread. Depicted flawlessly in the guitarwork, Avow boasts an attack both barbarously scathing and unnervingly subaqueous. Vocals are perhaps the most accessible facet, The Curator’s great roar rising from the pulsing murk with filthy ferocity and cosmic blasphemy. While its many squelching movements and phrases are imposing, it’s the songwriting that separates Portal from the blithering hordes, its passages seamless and execution formidable.

Avow is stunningly engaging moment-to-moment because of its shuddering, shifting, and delightfully unpredictable character. The shapeshifting “Catafalque” seamlessly morphs from atonal stinging tremolo to monstrous down-tuned shivering – this dichotomy, albeit simple, is remarkably lethal. Tracks like the relentlessly abstruse “Eye” and “Bode” are haunting and pummeling, flaying listeners’ skin with barbed precision in its use of percussion and descending riffs, while the patiently ominous growers “Manor of Speaking” and “Drain” seem to deal with fretless everything to illustrate the steady fear and horror that lurks beneath, operating with the organicity of living, breathing creatures. The fusion of Portal’s embodiments of dense claustrophobia and its scathing clarity collide in devastating fashion on Avow. Portal remains in the abstract and surreal outskirts of its professed subgenres, and its palette may simply be too noisy or impenetrable; the success of its lurching and shuddering movements will depend on the listener, especially since the backbone of the relatively quiet percussion is a rarely reliable tether for sanity.

As the final disarming riff of “Drain” echoes through the ears and worms itself into the brain, I realize how multifaceted and layered Avow is, leaving ruin in its wake and haunting the dreams of anyone who dares tune in. Because Portal sits at the crossroads of absolutely fucking bonkers and consistently excellent, it honestly feels unfair to give them any review. The music is noisy, atonal, and as always, impenetrable, but always one-of-a-kind; putting words to this breed of unmatchable inaccessibility feels like I simply cannot do Avow justice. Furthermore, pairing it with surprise release Hagbulbia showcases the spindly reach and ongoing devastating potential of The Curator and his minions, cementing their unique aesthetic. It feels as though their style transcends the multitude of descriptors: whether it be blackened death, death/black, avant-garde, experimental, etc., none of it feels apt to the devastation that Portal offers with each foray into madness. You cannot hold a candle to Avow, or you’ll be the one catching fire while they bask in the glow.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Profound Lore
Website: facebook.com/portaldeath
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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