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The Pitch: Australian atmospheric blackened death metal legends Portal are back again for their 5th album, Ion, via Profound Lore. True to form, it’s an album that challenges your senses and forces your ear to the iron in the name of progress. FFO: Abyssal, Imperial Triumphant, Deathspell Omega

It’s an album that challenges your senses and forces your ear to the iron

What I Like: Portal is not a band for everyone. I’ll admit that my first few forays into their back catalog left me confused and disquieted. But over time, I learned to embrace my fears, and since then I have understood why this band has become such an underground sensation. Ion does not deviate from this esoteric approach. It is an album that demands multiple listens; and even as a fan my first runthrough left me with that same old feeling of inadequacy. Perserverance will be rewarded.

After the obligatory atmospheric intro, we get right down to business with “ESP ION AGE.”  Again, the band wastes no time rooting out the normies. This track is particularly rough on the ears with its frantic guitarwork and of course the trademark arhythmic rasp of The Curator. Their approach to their instruments continues to be highly unique. Instead of going for deep lows, most riffs are focused on sharp, high-pitched tremolo picking. As a result, compositions feel spastic; once more drawing comparisons to swarming insects and consuming flames.

Alternatively, the drumming and vocals fill out the low end of the spectrum. Cryptic, prophetic death whispers add a haunting weight to the proceedings, but it is once more Ignis Fatuus who steals the show on the kit. His alternations between raw blasts and tension-building, tribal toms has always been a key component holding the music together. I don’t think he gets quite the same spotlight as he did on “Curtain;” but nevertheless, the level of technicality here is impressive considering his interplay with the equally insane axe grinding of Horror and Aphotic.

Critiques: Maybe it’s just my copy, but the production on this album feels scaled back in comparison to Vexovoid. I think back on amazing tracks like the aforementioned “Curtain” and recall a much fuller, bassier feel. Ion at times sports a rawer approach that further adds to the listening challenge. I haven’t really decided if I think this is a “bad” choice, but I do feel that it contributes to my ultimate preference towards the previous album.

Ion continues to prove why Portal are one of the most original and interesting death metal acts around today

The Verdict: Overall, Ion continues to prove why Portal are one of the most original and interesting death metal acts around today. While some of the songwriting could be better fleshed out and I’m iffy on the production choices, the band makes up for this with intense, brain-bending performances and suffocating atmosphere. Get it Friday.

Flight’s Fav’s: Phreqs, Phantom, Revault of Volts

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Author:

Flight of Icarus FlightofIcarus is a father, licensed counselor, and full time metalhead. When he is not working and spending time with family, he is writing furiously to promote underground bands on his own site, Metal Trenches. He believes staunchly in writing only constructive reviews, and his favorite bands include Dark Tranquillity, Enslaved, Poison the Well, and Deftones. You can also buy his ebook, The ABC’s of Black Metal.