Portal – Seepia review

June 20, 2008 at 10:41 pm (Reviews) (, , , )

Portal band photograph

The Australian Portal have a small and devout fanbase, but remain mostly obscure even within the already obscure realm of death metal. Even though Australia has an active metal scene, it’s difficult for bands to leave and tour due to travel expenses. Therefore, Portal have a relatively low chance of ever being a household name. After a hiatus, Portal have resumed playing gigs in Australia, but even now they remain (willfully?) in the shadows.

I remember the first time I heard this cd, I had received it in a shirt trade with the band’s old bassist Werm. What he sent was actually the remastered version, though on my first listen in my car I was instantly put off. Even with the best sound systems, the guitars sound scratchy and flat. Their other releases, including a more recent full length, Outre, retain this signature guitar sound. The drum sound on Seepia is what pushes the production from unique to frustrating. The bass drums are all but non-existent, and it sometimes feels more like a noise cd than death metal. I believe the band captured their best production on the Lurker at the Threshold EP, which has more powerful drums and a slightly more controlled sound. The easiest way for me to describe the effect of this CD is to compare it to the video game series Silent Hill. If you remember, those games always had a faint layer of static obscuring the horror, some fuzz blocking out the monsters. Sometimes what you can’t see, or hear in this case, is scarier than what you can.

The production is so strange and creepy it really hides the actual music. The guitars are generally just a wall of scratching, as though they have the gain on 10 and are just sliding their hands up and down the fretboard. This will continue for minutes until finally, like in “Tempus Fugit”, they stop palm muting and hit some chords. Even scarier is when they accurately tremolo pick individual notes at the song’s end. After so many riffs of just scratch and hiss, the isolated notes are jarring and attention grabbing. I haven’t ever paid much attention to the vocalist, who calls himself The Curator. This band’s music has no place for a Frank Mullen, so his indistinct and monotone vocals fit perfectly.

If you go to the band’s website, myspace, or flip through the liner notes, you’ll see that there are no faces to this music. They hide who they are and their appearances. The band wears garb that looks like a mesh between Steampunk and the Silent Hill monsters. I’m not one for theatrics ala Behemoth or Immortal, but in this case distancing themselves from this music was a great artistic choice. This album is definitely better when digested as art more than music for listening purposes. There’s no standout single, no riffs you’ll remember, or anything like that. Listening to Seepia is more akin to running through a series of shadowy rooms, catching glimpses of ghastly things here and there, but in the end you’ll emerge without any distinct memories. All you retain after Seepia is the sense that you stumbled into something that is horrifying and unsettling.

Note: I’ve included some digital pictures of the digipack version of this CD. I think it’s pretty hard to come by, and the layout is really cool. I didn’t photograph every page of the booklet, but this will give you a feel for the vibe the band creates. Click these for super hi-res photos (they’re a bit blurry, sorry).

Seepia frontThe booklet opened up
Seepia CD Open digipack

Links:

Portal myspace

Portal Official Website

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3 Comments

  1. Cerberus said,

    Portal is the results of excellent musitians, chaotic and terrorific musical infrastucture and their production/recording/mix is a clear view of what another dimmension of Terror and Holocaust can be.

    The first time i heard this band i knew they were the very first doing this kind of art involved with Music and Evil, as one Genius said, trying to copy Portal is not only stupid but lame, they have created it their own style and from my point of view they are the Best Extreme Black/Death/Horror Metal band ever, since they can not be called Death or Black Metal, i would call it Horror Cacophonic Black/Death.

    • yourdoom said,

      Good boy, Cerberus!!

  2. thejamminjabber said,

    I don’t really dig the recordings, but Portal was an experience to behold, live.

    http://thejamminjabber.com/2010/07/13/portal-will-open-a-portal-in-your-mind-and-then-tear-open-a-new-one-in-your-asshole/

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