I think I brought up reviewing this album as a joke. Actually, I did, and laughed a little to myself before Brendan nodded his head in approval. What? Really? Well now I have to do it. I mean, I would love to review the fourth release from the Australian abstract black/death act, which has the ability to make my skin crawl to the ceiling. Who wouldn´t want to spend an afternoon in the depths of madness and existential nightmares? Looking at this album under the umbrella of epic metal makes one realize that the term “epic” could mean many different things. For example, a 35 minute odyssey into a metaphysical landscape of Lovecraftian terror and surreal narratives could be construed as “epic.” Be warned that there will be no dragons here, only the slow screams of insanity. Let us do this.
Portal has gained attention not only for a catalog of dense black death releases but also for the fact that they wear celebratory and frightening costumes on stage. The band members go by pseudonyms and fill their songs with abstract lyrics. Words like “Pendulant Arc/Doth Wax/Bow Astern/Steeping Cusp” may seem silly out of context, yet within a tunnel of swarming noise it is alarming. Portal’s dedication to the dread of the unknown continues in their fourth release Vexovoid – an album that just may be the band’s most successful as well as most accessible.
You see, the last sentence was true but also carries a tiny bit of humor. The truth lies in the fact that the sound of Portal is given their more dynamic range by placing it where the low end and high fluctuate. The funny part is, it sounds like a wall of noise when compared to 99% of sounds ever made. It is true that when looking at the spectrograph of any Portal song one will see something that looks like a brick or colored candy bar. It is true that almost every song on Vexovoid has an inescapable wall of noise which is oppressive and unyielding. Once the listener steps beyond that, or at least scrapes away the last desires for consonance, a dynamic and varied landscape lies beyond. It is true that those landscapes are still jagged and full of otherworldy danger, but they are varied nonetheless. Welcome to the afterworld where this 12 foot plasmic monolith will be your guide.
Vexovoid is one of the first Portal albums in which their structure and texture can be appreciated. Before I was just enamored with the band’s visual aesthetic and ability to recreate my own night terrors. Vexovoid has the same ability to do that but now it comes with more understanding. Songs like “Awryeon” have low registering noise which stalk in the background behind the blast beats and atonal rasps. “Curtain’s” drums sound deep and resonating, which punctuate the famous wall of noise. For 35 minutes Vexovoid ceases to be uninteresting and by the back half of the record is only left feeling oddly refreshed. Portal does this despite the various times its melody is completely erased and its essence is deconstructed to nothingness. Enjoy your stay in the lands of post-existence.
Tomorrow I will return to a place of knights, dragon-fire, and melodious narratives. My praise for Portal does not take away from the other side of the dissonant spectrum. Vexovoid only strengthens Portals presence as once of the most intense metal acts of recent memory and it is important that one realizes that drama can be found in all manner of places. This place may or may not be inhabited by the plasmic creatures of the jagged kingdom which reside in a desolate unknown. Welcome home.
Released: February 19th, 2013
Label: Profound Lore Records
Score: 8/9 Hammers