CD Review: PORTAL - Outre
For being supposedly extreme, death metal has become quite safe. What began as boundary-pushing is now a set of convenient boxes: technical, ultra-brutal, melodic, old-school Swedish. The genre's pioneers, fingers bloodied from thrashing thrash's denim-jacketed corpse, would shudder at such conformity. In the aptly-titled Outré, Australia's Portal challenges the very notion of what is death metal. Doing so, ironically, is more true to its original spirit than much of what's called death metal today.
The album will frustrate fans of conventional death metal because it contains familiar hints: the groaning dissonance of Immolation, the hellish murk of Incantation, the downtuned abstraction of later Morbid Angel. But these are ghosts in the miasma, occasionally surfacing like Tetsuo's face when he morphs into a monster in Akira. Portal are long past "departure points"; they're carving their own depraved path. Its only familiarity comes from the use of guitars – and even that is questionable.
Most of the time, the guitars sound like vacuum cleaners. If you listen closely, you will hear riffs. They're just swathed in so much buzzing distortion and wrenching dissonance that they become more like clouds. Screw tablature; sick and twisted angles lurch around, leaving major and minor scales far, far behind. Not since Blut Aus Nord's MoRT have guitars sounded so skewed.
Blastbeats sometimes bubble up, as do death growls here and there. But this album gives listeners no help. With virtually no repetition or predictability, it's more of a soundscape than a series of tracks. Thus, it can be a slog. The title track sounds like a howling headache. But it's also strangely addictive. This is death metal from another dimension, an alien jolt to the senses.