Not too long ago I was completely unaware of the existence of such a band as Portal. Then one day a friend came up to me and suggested that I listen to them, saying that I’d probably like them, but that they’re the WEIRDEST band I’d ever hear. I had not hitherto come across such a musically (for the lack of a better word) formidable band--I seriously wasn’t aware of what I was about to dive into. No. Idea. Goddamn was he right, and crap, do they deliver--even if in the most unorthodox way possible.
I’d like to start this review by telling a little story. A while back I was trolling around on the Thrash Unlimited forums when I came across a discussion on Portal. Someone had just gotten into and was recommending them, and soon after other people joined in on the deliberation. One guy said that he “didn’t get it at all.” And then someone else joined in as well, asserting that it’s the “not getting it factor” that makes them awesome. Just incomprehensible badassery.
That’s probably all you need to know about them, but I will try to elaborate that point some more. Portal are a band [probably] like no other, and the first minute that you venture into the dark catacombs that is their music you will know what I’m talking about. You may, at first, concur with the statement that it’s merely incoherent noise. But if you listen more carefully, you’ll find that they, indeed, have very intricate patterns and melodies going on all over the place. Their melodies range from slightly death metal influenced ones such as on “The Swayy” (which is most likely the song with the most death metal influence on the entire album), or very dark, somber, more abrasive ones, such as on “Werships” or “llloomorpheme.”
You won’t be able to make out exactly what’s going on with the guitars, as oftentimes they just sound like a rough, raucous buzzing to the ear, but the melodies are something you will be able to discern--and when you do, you’ll be more than surprised at what you find. It’s very hard to describe their sound, as you just can’t pinpoint (at least I can’t) any other bands that sound like Portal. If I had the chance to create a whole new genre and name Portal the inaugurators of it, I would, as the guy in the aforementioned discussion on TU so eloquently put it, name it Incomprehensible Badassery. Seriously. Most of the time you can’t even headbang to them; and that certainly doesn’t make them bad. Quite the opposite.
The drum work on the album is phenomenal, and even if at times you may not be able to hear the double bass very clearly, it’s there, and it’s friggin’ fast. For example, on about 1:45 of the song “llloomorpheme,” he does some mind-blowing stuff. That is not easy, AT ALL, to play, and you have to give the guy props. The vocals, as well, are a stellar (as is everything else) facet on the record. They’re extremely creepy, and even more so when you see a live performance of the band. They’re not the average death metal growls--maybe somewhat close, not quite. They provide a certain ambiance, a tangible quality that I can’t quite explain, that the album would be without had it had different vocals.
Highlights on this record include “llloomorpheme,” “The Swayy,” hell, the ENTIRE album. I believe I’ve compiled my thoughts on this record as best as I could, as it’s a hard album to review, if only by the sheer weirdness of it. "Swarth" is certainly among my favorite death metal (if you can even call them that) albums of all time. It may be different for you, or it may not. But once you get the concept of their music, you’ll be surprised at how plain awesome they are. And also, if you do pick this gem up, do yourself a favor and listen to it at night. It may sound corny, but it just makes the whole listening experience that much more intense.