(Profound Lore, 2009)
by Dan Cairns
First things first, I must stress this very clearly; I hate the majority of death metal. Which doesn’t make sense really. In principal it should be my favourite thing ever. I like horrible detuned guitars. I like blastbeats. I like lyrics where people get stabbed up good. Yet I hate it. Hate it hate it hate it. And I don’t know why.
So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I listened to Swarth by Portal. I’d heard that it was meant to be amazing and that but you know, pegging’s meant to be amazing too, and I certainly don’t want to fucking try that. Anyhoo, I gave it a listen… It is the musical equivalent of being sodomised by a fucking bulldozer. Seriously. ‘Swarth’ is flat-out stunning. I’ve listened to it four or five times today already and I will listen to it a couple more times before I go to bed, doubtless to drift into an ethereal reverie about Danzig. It’s in listening to ‘Swarth’ that I realise just what is wrong with so much modern death metal. It’s so overproduced, so focused on trying to sound ludicrously technical or brutal that it all pulsates into one gelatinous unwashed mass. I mean, Origin for instance. I bummed their last album ‘Antithesis’ to death on another site. After one listen it sounded stunning. Halfway through the second listen though, it became ‘Antithesizzzzzzzz.’ There’re only so many times something technically proficient can make you cum in your pants. Nile as well. They’re on album number 6 now. That’s 6 cd’s filled with nothing but Egyptian based guitar wanking. They haven’t even had the good sense to cover ‘Walk like an Egyptian.’FOOLS. Portal are different. The opening few minutes alone sound like a tank revving up (courtesy of a grimy, gruesome guitar tone). It’s when the drums kick in though that shit goes off. These don’t sound like songs in the traditional sense, and the riffs don’t sound like conventional riffs either. Cyclical bends and dissonant buzzing sounds are the order of the day, and the songs don’t bother to follow any conventional pattern. They have this tendency to make the guitars sound like the roars of dying elephants, if that gets you off. It’s such a refreshing change from the br00tal licks and riffs that permeate death metal and its bastard offspring subgenres.
The record is pulsating with something that so much death metal lacks; atmosphere. As good as Cannibal Corpse are, their brand of horrific death metal is pretty much grand guignol. It’s something to stick on if you have friends around and you are getting hammered, as you piss yourself laughing at Corpsegrinder’s nonsense. Portal are different though. There’s something wrong with Portal, and I like it. If Cannibal Corpse are the ‘Saw’ movies, Portal are the works of Dario Argento. It’s artier, purer and dripping with genuine evil. Naturally, being a pretentious wanky bastard, I dig that a lot more.
Many will not like ‘Swarth.’ But those who get it will reaaaally get it. Portal remind me a bit of Deathspell Omega, in the way that they’re both fiercely esoteric, intelligent, and light years ahead of their dunderhead peers. Most death metal bands when they aren’t on the road, probably do things like ‘hang out’ or watch sports. I get the impression Portal don’t do that. I think Portal are the kind of chaps who tuck their penis’s between their legs and dance in front of mirrors like the fella from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in their downtime. I dunno about you, but I’d rather hang out with them. No, not their penis’s.