Extremism, in nearly all forms, is bad. Political extremes are tearing the country apart right now. Religious extremists? Just the worst. Extreme mix tapes? Kill me. But do you know what’s awesome? Extreme metal. Give me your grindcores, your mathcores, your black & symphonic & noise metals. I love all my extreme metal children. But can metal be too extreme? Portal seems determined to find out the answer on their newest release, Ion.
This is my first dance with these highly revered Aussie black/death metalers, who appeared to gain quite a following in the underground metal community after 2013’s
Vexovoid, a record that missed my radar completely. But with the members of the band being named Curator, Horror Illogium, Aphotic, Omenous Fugue, and Ignis Fatuus, how could you go wrong? I read quite a bit about Portal before the release of the record, and a common theme of why the band was so popular in extreme-metal circles was how borderline inaccessible their music was. Sure enough, the internets were right.
Ion avoids melody to such an extent that you would think they have a restraining order against each other. The guitars, drums, and bass come at you at a blistering pace, eschewing traditional song composition for something that often sounds more like a sonic wall of feedback, or maybe even television static turned up to one notch past the maximum. Portal, very deliberately, stretch the definition of what can be considered music, creating something that is inarguably heavy & brutal but completely foreign & unrecognizable to even the seasoned metal ear.
There’s a good and bad side to this extreme-extremeness. As someone who enjoys seeing metal push the boundaries of the genre, I love what this album accomplishes. Ion’s sound is so menacing, and so violent, and so bat shit crazy that I couldn’t help but smile as the album went along. It’s always refreshing to hear that there is still room in the metal universe to explore, and Portal is on a path all by themselves.
However, this comes at a price. As much as I enjoyed listening to Ion for its innovativeness, I can already tell that I likely won’t be revisiting the record anytime soon. As much credit as the band deserves for their unique sound, the album doesn’t have a lot of replay value. Once you’ve listened to it and seen all the band can offer, what is there to bring you back? As much as it pains the extreme-metal fan in me to say, sometimes a little melody can go a long way in making an album listenable.
So what is Ion? After a few listens, I’m still not sure. I’m happy that I gave Portal a chance, and I will continue to do so in the future, but funny names and wacky costumes can only take you so far. Their music, while certainly unique, has room left to grow. And if the band wants to bring in more casual listeners, I’d certainly love to hear what they sound like with just a hint of melody (but seriously, the smallest dash possible). If not, they can take solace in owning one of the darkest, dankest, and doomiest corners of the vast metal universe.
“Phreqs”, “Revault of Volts”, “Phathom”