Portal’s sixth album Avow sees the band return to a sound more akin to some of their earlier work. They remain one of the more unique bands in death metal with an absolutely claustrophobic, dark, and creepy sound. Their ability to invoke a feeling of dread in their music remains second to none with their dissonant and chaotic riffs, and vocalist The Curator’s whisper-like growl.
Portal has seen an evolution in their sound, especially in the last couple of albums. With 2013s Vexovoid, they reigned in some of the chaos of the riffs to focus on a more direct attack, while 2018s Ion offered the most striking release of their career with the biggest change in sound coming noticeably from the guitars. Previous albums had the band using 8-string instruments which helped create a murky and dense sound, but for Ion, guitarist Horror Illogium reunited with his old Carvin Ultra Flying V, a 6 string guitar with a razor-like attack that he used to compose and create the albums unique sound. Where previously you could hear nods to bands such as Morbid Angel, Gorguts, and Incantation, with Ion it seemed the band was channeling some of the off-the-rails essence of mid-80s German thrash such as Sodom or Destruction, but in their own truly unique, twisted way.
In an interview with Bardo Methodology at the time of Ion’s release, Horror Illogium revealed that the band had recorded tracks for a full-length but decided to shelve the album before it could be mixed. One reason for this decision was the rise of many new bands trying to take on a similar approach or aesthetic. With Ion, they succeeded in making a record that stood apart from these imitators and in my personal opinion, one of their strongest releases. The first thing that struck me about Avow was how much it signals a move back, especially production-wise, to the band’s older recordings. The guitars that were so sharp and in your face on Ion have moved back in the mix to unify the dissonance and drone which is more pronounced. There’s barely a moment that isn’t suffocating in its execution. There was no real information given in the bio for the album but honestly, the first thought that crossed my mind was whether or not the band had decided to revisit some of the material from their discarded work. Either way, fans of the band’s earlier albums will probably be very happy with the direction taken here. Also of note are The Curator’s vocals. They remain a very strong point elevating the menace and dread put forth and essentially free up the music to take any direction it chooses.
The album overall is more impenetrable than the last two but no less intriguing a listen, and therein lies one of Portal’s greatest strengths. Portal’s cacophony transcends whatever notion people might have about what death metal can be, and they continue to succeed in being one of the most truly unique groups in the genre, imitators be damned.
Pre-order Avow by Portal HERE