The masters of mind-bending horror from Australia’s treacherous lands have returned, and what a time it is to be alive as PORTAL have cursed us with two consecutive monstrosities for the year instead of just one. Both are quite distinctive, and while the entity titled Avow carries out the anticipated tendency for suffocating heaviness, Hagbulbia takes the experimental quality into levels of hellish immensity. These works exist independently, but their proximal releases encourage a joint experiencing and create a complimentary factor between them. For this reason, they’ll be appreciated together here, and after Avow leads into the blackened depths of obscurity, Hagbulbia will go even further to show PORTAL’s unlimited capacity for devising abysmal soundscapes.
Demented riffing materializes from the distortion on “Catafalque” and sets a brooding tone with dissonant blasts of heaviness and double bass. This progresses into thick layers of speed riffing and blast beats until insanity shifts to signal the emerging phantasmic voice of The Curator. Dense riffs and drumming merge into synchronized rolling pulsations that alternate with heightened chaos and cymbal crashes before their totality takes flight in driving blasts and tremolo riffing escalations. These develop into overlapping layers of ascension that create an alien or warped perceptual effect, as if traversing some inter-dimensional plane within an altered state, and soon they morph into a slow descent that ends with dissonant chords and the industrial impact of distorted cymbals. The concentrated and chaotic substance of these arrangements persists and continues with the menacing density of “Eye.” Mid-paced blasts quicken into various rhythmic transitions while technical outbursts shred through the murkiness of contorting riffs. Harsh atmospheric nuances appear within the flow of spectral energies as the oppression dissipates into a deep roaring bass that initiates “Offune.” This abruptly yields for a blasting force that levels into rhythmic pulsing mirrored also by the crushing distortion. A tormented dissonance crawls and accommodates a rush of unearthly energy and cavernous howls, which leads to the looming intensity of shadows conjured from dismal heaviness and other haunting influences.
Madness creeps through the dissonant bends on “Manor of Speaking” and then rages into blasting fury. A slow groove leads into complete desolation with the entrancing fluctuations of dense tremolo riffs, and the rhythm recovers with double bass and a shift to mid-paced blasts as the mounting weight of riffs continues. Chaos rises in bursts of shredding frenzy and breaks into distant distortions while the paths of various manifestations interact throughout this mass of murky progressions. It descends into crushing doom before succumbing to further layers of riffing derangement and voices within the static of oblivion. Dreary riffs push an advance into endless depths along with the rhythmic crashing of cymbals and double bass on “Bode.” This sepulchral drift leads to a passage of disturbed revelations conveyed by The Curator and tense drum arrangements while the riffing sustains its unsettling discord. Mutations arise in this unrelenting wall of bleakness until mid-blasts drive onward to the post-apocalyptic ambience of “Drain.” A final display of frantic blasting and riff defiance breaks into otherworldly distortion, and ominous developments emerge before a rhythmic procession gradually slows to heavy strikes within the eerie dissonance. Intermittent bursts of blasting remain until tremolo fluctuations seal an ending in chaotic darkness.
One distinction between these works is that, while Avow takes the listener into the abyss, Hagbulbia takes the abyss into the listener. This second abomination begins with a rush of monstrous vocals and spectral effects on “Stow,” and dismal melodies appear in the raw distortion of riffs as these vocals and effects build into a hellish intensity. Ambience is the main focus here, and sporadic industrial beats resemble a sparce form of percussion until an end approaches with the sound of mid-paced blasting. This cacophony resumes with a chaotic whirl of similar elements on “Of Straw & Cloth.” Multiple disorienting layers appear and fluctuate at different levels as they progress, along with the possible inclusion of faint distorted shredding, but uncertainty remains from the claustrophobic magnitude of the mix. “Grail” takes oblivion further as hostile energies circulate within an imposing torrent of madness, and its gradual dissipation only serves to enhance the unnerving arrival of “Weptune.” Nightmarish emanations take shape within a void of malevolence, and demented riffs adds further torment before an industrial pulse emerges. A dark hallucinogenic fear closes in with the pursuit of an anxiety-inducing rhythm paralleled by desolate riffing. This bad cosmic trip reaches peak devastation on “Hexodeus,” with ambience to send the mind spiraling into utter insanity. Sinister projections continue as incorporeal riffs and blasts develop in the ether, and the end becomes as these dynamic textures culminate into an all-consuming pandemonium.
The obscure and warped atmosphere of the music is mirrored in phrases of mostly two to four words connected into cryptic lyrical depictions of death, destruction, spectral forces, and the occult. Avow grimly opens with “Catafalque,” the term for a coffin-supporting platform, and it seems to embody this funerary structure and its contents along with other malicious impressions. Prophesies of doom continue through the scrying on “Eye,” followed by impending death and funereal references on “Offune.” A cataclysmic scene of destruction and decay occurs in the land on “Manor of Speaking,” while various descriptors on “Bode” suggest Necromancy or some other depraved ritual involving spirits and the dead. An oddly familiar scenario plays out on “Drain,” which involves a “potent strain” targeting the older population.
Consistency remains in the dark spirit of Hagbulbia with a chaotic descent into grave depths on “Stow,” and this doomed venture leads to further rot and famine with “Of Straw & Cloth.” Irreligious metaphors are suggested in the portrayal of hay as “clueless” moths fly into flames and “men of the cloth” appear with those who lead “astray in the Sons eyes.” A witch also brews from the “Cauldron of Wroth” before the priestly façade is exposed once more on “Grail.” The oceanic abyss and its cosmic equivalent summon a mournful scene of tombs on “Weptune,” along with the lure of sirens, and “Hexodeus” employs an unfamiliar language or combination of languages, which seems relatable to the sonic transcendence of this closing track. A hex directed at god is possibly revealed in the breakdown to “Hex 0 Deus” while a further alteration of “HexoGeist” shows one of the many lyrical wordplays occurring throughout both works. Ultimately, the only certainty with these lyrics is the grim and haunting imagery they invoke while maintaining an enigmatic quality, and individual interpretations will reflect the same infinite potential as the accompanying music.
PORTAL has delivered the best of possible outcomes and moved beyond realms of expectation by offering not only a full work of their warped signature suffocation, but also a complete and separate expansion of their dark experimental disposition. Avow crafts a balanced combination of elements from their previous outputs into a new venture through the sinister murk, and Hagbulbia naturally augments its endless potential with ambience to provoke the unspeakable depths of the imagination. There is something for everyone between the dense heaviness and hallucinogenic madness of these two expressions, and I look forward to seeing what creations will follow in time. Until then, PORTAL have overshadowed the foreseeable future with Avow and Hagbulbia, which contain enough dark matter to keep listeners trudging perpetually through the ominous recesses of the mind.