Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Mere Multiverse - Portal's Vexovoid

Portal have always given me this sinking feeling. For one the hype surrounding their studio releases is enormous, and their following seems to consist of either rabid fanboys or jaded death metal aficionados. Secondly their atmosphere is massive and dismally enthralling. The latter is what originally drew me into their music, but I've always been slightly let down since Lurker At The Threshold. Similarly atmospheric acts rely  heavily on memorable riffs and jagged composition, while Portal rely heavily on effects and strong post production. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it has always put me off of truly enjoying their later music.

Now we have a new album to hopefully dissuade that negative feeling that I get when anyone talks about Portal. On first listen, like any Portal album, it's tough to take in details. Noise and effects are the band's preferred weapon of sonic warfare, and their use on Vexovoid is just as apparent as it has been since Seepia. A quick aside: I don't think Portal have ever managed to top the berserkly schizophrenic sound of that album. If anything stands out though, it's that Vexovoid has far more direct songwriting when compared to their past two releases. This is both a boon and a curse, as tracks like rhythm-heavy "Curtain" and opener "Kilter" are both potent but predictable by Portal standards. The churning riffs and atmosphere are still there, but their structures are quite plain. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a streamlining of their sound by any means though, so long time Portal fans needn't worry.

With only seven tracks and thirty-four minutes to work with, Vexovoid does a solid job of immersing the listener. Each track has its own murky atmosphere like anyone would expect, and there are quite a few highlights scattered throughout. "The Back Wards" previewed earlier last month is one of the better tracks on Vexovoid and the audible, atonal tremolo guitarwork does hark back to their older days. "Curtain" is one of my favorites with its dissonant melodies that play to the vocal performance by The Curator. Other tracks feel unfinished - "Plasm" in particular feels like half a track tacked onto a derivative noise segment that isn't interesting from that particular musical perspective either. Transitions are something that the band has always had a problem with in my opinion. Not just between tracks, but in gluing together the instrumentation, noise-heavy parts, and swapping out segments of riffs.

The mixing and production took a step in the right direction. That was a big problem with Swarth for me. The guitarwork was so feeble and wispy, and it just couldn't compliment the overbearing nature of the high-gain noise. The drums on Swarth were pathetic as well, sounding more clicky and pillow-filled than is normal for a band like this. Vexovoid remedies this with a very powerful, deeply resonant low-end to not just the toms and bass drum, but to the guitar as well. This compliments their atonal riffing style better, but from a contextual perspective Vexovoid just feels less thematically together than their past two full-lengths. Take of that what you will.

7.25 out of 10

1. Kilter
2. The Back Wards
3. Curtain
4. Plasm
5. Awryeon
6. Orbmorphia
7. Oblotten

Listen // Buy

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