PORTAL — Outre' (review)

PORTAL — Outre' album cover Album · 2007 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Along with Gorguts, Australia’s PORTAL was one of the earliest avant-garde extreme metal bands that started to expand the ever evolving world of death metal into ever weirder, creepier and more surreal territories. Founded in 1994 in the city of Brisbane, PORTAL developed a kindred penchant with Gorguts in experimenting with extreme dissonance, eerie down-tuned rhythms and a completely unorthodox methodology of composing its musical flow. While Gorguts embraced the more technical aspects of death metal, PORTAL favored dark depressive atmospheres that took a cue from the world of black metal and dark ambient music. The band also curated a surreal persona which kept the members shrouded in anonymity. The band’s unusual stage costumes were inspired by 1920s silent films with the intent of steering the focus on the music itself which included musical themes steeped in Lovecraftian concepts such as Nyalathotep, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth and Cthulhu.

While the band would release its first self-titled demo as early as 1998, it wouldn’t be until 2003 that PORTAL its first bonafide album “Seepia” hit the scene which showcased the band’s unique display of seamlessly merging the worlds of technical death metal with the atmospheric bleakness of black metal. Unconventional arrangements, eerie atmospheric backdrops and a bombastic explosive delivery of blitzkrieg instrumentation made “Seepia” stand out like a sore thumb in the world of death metal that had in many ways become more formulaic as it became more popular. While the debut delivered a thunderous display of avant-garde death metal wizardry, the band was not happy with the outcome citing that the desire to weave in the atmospheric elements was unsuccessful due to the incessant pummelation of the senses displayed by guitarist Horror Illogium, original bassist Werm and drum abuser Ignis Fatuus.

The band spent the next few years honing its craft with a couple EPs before unleashing its masterwork, OUTRE, a title that literally means bizarre, eccentric and freakishly bizarre. This sophomore album found PORTAL coming of age with a much more expansive approach that took the world of technical death metal even further down the avant-garde rabbit hole. By this time the band had expanded to a quintet fronted by the eccentric chief growler The Curator who freakishly donned an executioner’s mask. Aphotic Mote joined Horror Illogium as the second guitarist and likewise bassist Elsewhere and newbie drummer Monocular joined the PORTAL team to craft one of the most startlingly mondo bizarro death metal dominant albums that the early 2000s had to offer. While initially inspired by the likes of Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL had expanded its sound into a world all its own which was as dystopian and far removed from what many would deem traditional old school death metal as one could possibly fathom at this point.

OUTRE wastes no time establishing its atmospheric presence with the short dark ambient intro “Moil” which cedes to the dissonant noise ferocity of “Abysmill” by implementing the same aggressive bombast as “Seepia” but with more nuance. While “Seepia” was a blitzkrieg of excesses, OUTRE immediately establishes an immediate emphasis on crafting a streamlined horrorscape of sound that features a more controlled restraint. A concerted effort to give each instrument its own role is the biggest leap of ingenuity on OUTRE with slow creeping bass lines, snare drum repetition and twin guitar dualities including slow slinking moments closer to doom metal than the world of frenetic death metal. The album also offers dark ambient interludes that connect tracks and place them into a more logical cohesive context which allows the Lovecraftian themes to bask in their own marinated ebullience. While the focus on atmosphere may have been firmly established, OUTRE refused to jettison the bantering sonic onslaught of fast reckless guitar riffing and resolute devotion to adrenalized speed rushes.

The band also developed menacing guitar tones that coupled with noisy production values offered and even further detachment from conventional death metal techniques, a term that some have referred to as “caverncore.”. Even The Curator’s vocal growls defied death metal conventionalities and lay somewhere between the emphatic raspiness of avant-garde black metal bands like Deathspell Omega and the guttural growls that death metal enthusiasts had become accustomed to. Attention to slower oozing bleakness as the emphasis allowed the aggressive elements to offer a more intricate contrast which heightened the surreal soundscapes even further. The use of varying tempos and moments of sluggish vagrancy allowed the atmospheric constructs to pierce the din and cast an overall tension that “Seepia” lacked. The album finds oddball moments such as the 2 1/2 minute title track that escape the world of all established metal norms and features a noisy display of unnerving chaotic din only to be followed by the most aggressive moments on “13 Globes” which reprise the “Seepia” styled pummelation effect only dripping in compositional unconventionalities and atonal dissonant guitar assaults.

In all its aggressive dissonant din OUTRE proved revolutionary in crafting a strange new style of death metal based extremism that utilized the technical aspects and abrasiveness of the world of death metal and married it with the atmospheric potentials that the world of black metal offered. The album straddles a strange line between many strains of metal and even adopts some of the characteristic of war metal in a battle-like procession into strange Lovecraftian realities where everything familiar seems twisted, mangled and intangibly mutilated into unrecognizable yet discernible patterns of technical wizardry. OUTRE is the album that put PORTAL on the world’s stage and it has become one of those landmark moments that prognosticated an entirely new strain of dissonant death metal bands that would follow. In the 2020s this may not sound as extreme with bands like Ulcerate, Gigan, Pyrrhon and Ad Nauseam having followed the lead but back in 2007 when this was released it really did take extreme metal into some of the strangest places yet experienced. This one is a grower. It took me a while and many listening experiences to wrap my ahead around it but after several years of soaking it in, i have to say that is is a cream of the crop release in the world of avant-garde metal.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
3 days ago
Like any avant-garde experimental music Portal is an acquired taste

It’s an investment in learning a new musical language as well

I’ve acquired the taste and now they’re one of my favorite weirdo metal bands

UMUR wrote:
5 days ago
Portal are still one of the weirdest and inaccessible death metal acts on the planet. Many have tried to emulate them, but very few have succeeded. What Portal brings to the table is so unique but also so difficult to listen to, that non one needs imitators. One Portal is more than enough...

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