Portal’s Ion Is like Getting Punched by a Pinch-Harmonic Black Hole
English lyrics, audible guitar melodies, pop song lengths – Portal sold out :(
Just kidding. Ion is as insane and inaccessible as you want it to be.
There’s a certain, specifically modern breed of underground music fan that LOVES bands like Portal. Probably the kind of person who knew about Oneohtrix in like 2006, hangs out in r/darkwave or r/warmetal, or is really “into jazz.” Then there’s the other breed — of generally tech-y death-y metal fans in Gorguts, Pestilence, etc. zones — who are pimplier and not as cool IRL but equally into Portal.
Either way, these fanbases represent a trend over the past twenty-some-years towards something I’d call, I guess, the “anti-” — a movement away from wholesome values/songwriting/classical technique, and towards post-modern “nothing matters, all of culture is flat,” complete and utter chaos. Often this is accompanied by a distancing of oneself from one’s art — which 2018 culture thrives on via the re-recycling of nostalgia in Stranger Things, ironic gangsta rap, vest metal, etc. Portal have always had their feet more firmly planted in a purposeful approach to chaos — they’re far more Good Time than they are Drive — because they’re consummate pros who have been pushing the boundaries of nearly-inane music since 1994.
I don’t know much about Portal. I’ve listened to them here and there over the years, but I’m not exactly sure “listen” is even the right word. I do like them, I think. What I’ve gleaned is: they wear weird spooky hoods, are allegedly from Australia, and used to sing in gibberish or something (don’t @ me)? So I went back and re-listened to all their shit, then went to this new one.
Ion sounds super different, but its not exactly more accessible. The guitar tone throughout is kinda like if you took Zakk Wylde’s picking thumb (mid-pinch-harmonic), attached it to a fork, stuck that fork in an electrical socket, but the whole time you were inside a collapsing black hole being recorded on a GarageBand amp sim. Does that makes sense?
I’m reminded of bands like Behold the Arctopus — where the music is almost purposefully, comically, aggressively anti-. Older Portal could almost function like background music (the way jazz is for many people). Ion, by contrast, is in-your-face, Reign in Blood, basement-punk Portal. The songs are short and parts are gone as soon as they appear.
I actually wish Portal had gone more radical, at least relative to their own sound on this thing. “Phreqs” and “Spores” are clearly the best of the bunch — when they are truly embracing their inner anti-, and letting their music breathe a bit, as opposed to 1000% of the time flying wildly across their fretboards. This is a matter of personal taste — I’m the kind of Frank Zappa fan who likes when he applied his insanity towards melodic invention rather than total chaos.
This is something that younger bands like Full of Hell are so good at, and what Dillinger were the GOATs at — finding that balance between being anti-, being really really tech-y, and writing a song that I want to listen to again (or that emotionally affects me). But I’m sure there will be people in the comments section who tell me that this isn’t the point of Portal (again, don’t @ me) — that they’re really more of a Swans-type band, where the album is like an aromatic soap you use before you take a steam-bath in their live shows.
The crazy thing is, Portal has been going since 1994, yet are still finding new ways to be anti-. I think its because they’ve only made five albums — like DEP or Gorguts — they truly haven’t said something unless they needed to. They’ve never run into a Meshuggah-like recycling of their own ideas. Rather, they’re still finding new ways to be obnoxious and malevolent.
Portal’s Ion is out tomorrow via Profound Lore. Grab a copy here.