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Portal - Vexovoid Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Portal - Vexovoid

Portal - Vexovoid

Profound Lore Records
We're all too aware of the terrifying acts our species is capable of, but nothing reflects that better than the splendidly grotesque noisescapes of Portal. As the unnerving Australian death metal quartet proves yet again on their latest horror-filled dirge, Vexovoid, there are levels of depravity and antipathy beyond all imagining, dying for the chance to grasp you in their nightmarish claws.

When the most evil and vilest heavy metal fails to chill you, that's where Portal step in—providing a surreal and powerful voice for abomination and corruption, and doing so with polarizing and malevolent glee. Portal make for petrifying listening. The pure perversity of punishing yourself is the main reason you press play, and of course, that's exactly how the band would have it.

Portal willfully pushes your mental facilities to their limits, leaving you questioning the nature of reality. The world may often seem like a bewildering maelstrom teetering on a precipice, but Portal express that with a traumatic sense of totality—as if endless savagery is all there is, and you're deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

Such experiences are there in abundance on Vexovoid, along with plenty of others bound to leave you deeply afraid of shadows. Vexovoid continues the band's unflagging iniquity, being as dissonant and disconcerting as 2009's Swarth, as demented as 2007's Outre' and as maggoty as the band's 2003 debut, Seepia.

In fact, as far as coping with monstrous Lovecraftian visions and apocalyptic apprehensiveness is concerned, Vexovoid's primordial torrents are a genuine test of your mettle. That’s why Portal are an acquired taste, which is as it should be; they aren't safe fodder for the dull-eyed masses.

Vexovoid opens with "Kilter" and "Black Wards" crawling from the abyss, and it's immediately apparent that Portal's technicality is buried even deeper in a cavernous swarm of deranged noise. The Curator's throat-slit gurgles and growls slither within, the churn of bass and drums sets a clotted yet relentless pace, and any illustration of complex guitar phrasing is hidden in a production that's choking in a toxic fog. For those seeking illuminated intricacy, look elsewhere; this is quagmire death metal par excellence.

The 'music' on Vexovoid oozes from a filth-laden sonic brume; riffs and solos lunge out, only to slink back from whence they came, and it's up to you to brave the fetor of decay and look deeper in attempting to decipher the chaos. And with no catchy hooks to lure you in, trying to unscramble Vexovoid via your own morbid curiosity is the very rusty barb that Portal use to pierce your psyche.

You could say Vexovoid is a progression, upping the challenge in terms of experimentalism, eccentricity and accessibility. But Portal have always followed a crooked path, and regression plays an equally strong a role. As the band digs further into decaying grottos, the jarring, cruddy battering inches closer to the primal psychological core of terror itself.

Vexovoid is certainly Portal's densest, ugliest and muddiest release yet. Tracks such as "Awryeon", "Oblotten" and "Curtain" are nightmare-inducing, horrifying lurches—simultaneously numbing and exhilarating. The album's songs bespatter you with the viscera of endless atrocities as they pass by, picking the scabs off your deepest fears, and amplifying the otherworldly, eldritch atmospheres for all they're worth.

It's an inhuman album. It barely registers as being crafted by actual human beings at all; at best you could say it was psychotic, devoid of any sense of sympathy or consideration. Submerged in the low-end swamp is the nuanced creativity, but up front is the (gloriously) hideous face of confrontational Antipodean artistry.

No thought is given to your comfort, or any sense of conformity or melodic structure. And while plenty of bands speak of misanthropy and animosity, few make albums that show such wanton disdain for everything like Vexovoid.

Being frightened by things that go bump in the night is inherent in all of us, a fact Portal exploits to full effect. Vexovoid leaves you clutching at the last vestiges of your sanity. It's an album that takes you on a torturous, labyrinthine journey, eventually dragging you howling into pits of rotting despair. It’s about as deathly as death metal can get.

It is, of course, outstanding, and a hellishly effective purgative. Vexovoid conjures up the loathsomeness in all of us, reminding us that the horrors we construct in our own minds are the very worst of all. As such, it expresses a hideous yet fundamental truth.

(Released February, 19, 2013 on Profound Lore Records)

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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