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Portal get lazy and decide to clone themselves - 70%

MutantClannfear, June 22nd, 2013

The last time I reviewed a Portal album I used a really pretentious metaphor about how the album was an engine or something of the sort, but this time I'm just going to cut to the chase because frankly this album isn't good enough to warrant my writing something like that. This is easily altogether the weakest Portal album to date - it's improved in a few aspects but when evaluated as a whole it's definitely lacking the "oomph" that made the band's first three full-lengths so promising. It's still good, but pretty much only because it's still intrinsically Portal; the songs as a whole are pretty inexcusable by the band's standards.

Vexovoid isn't pushing much new ground for Portal; in fact it's essentially a 50/50 mix of Outre' and Swarth. The production is dense and heavy like it was on the former (though not exactly brickwalled like Outre' was, either; the general consensus on this seems to be that the added clarity to the drums on this album is a positive aspect, but honestly, I personally miss the skullfucking density of the band's second album), and a few of the rhythmless, percussionless droning sections are borrowed from Outre', but the actual riffs are a bit more overtly technical as opposed to almost entirely atmospheric, which makes me want to liken it to Swarth.

The main positive development in the riffs is that a lot of the dissonant chords give off a much heavier sense of dread and horror - on this album Portal use a lot of abrupt, screeching sections among their riffs that have more potential to build tension than anything else the band have ever used before. Unfortunately, they never seem to properly follow up on them with quality hooks - this album is memorable but the actual riffs just aren't very good, if that makes any sense. A lot of them just sort of sit around, playing noodle riffs that sound like outtakes from Swarth, but those are really just about the best that Vexovoid has to offer. Quite a few of them are just flat-out annoying - some are phoned-in, uninspired dissonance that doesn't really exist for any other reason, and then you know that one riff at the 0:30 mark of "Kilter" with the jittery high note that keeps popping up amidst a sea of low, twangy, suspiciously djenty tremolo notes? It drives me off the fucking wall, and there are several more of those grating super-downtuned tremolo riffs sitting around the album where you'd least expect them. Likewise, improvement with the vocals is a double-edged sword in that the actual tone of vocals sounds amazing this time around (they're much hissier and more vitriolic than they've ever been) but the vocal lines aren't very good in terms of rhythm - they don't work off the rhythm of the riffs and just sort of float over them, like a Lovecraftian version of a Jehovah's Witness standing at your doorway aimlessly rambling over the music.

The real problem with all of this is that it just feels so fucking lazy by Portal standards. I'm not sure if it's actually possible to "phone in" something that sounds like it came from the 198th trans-omnipotent dimension, but it seems these guys did just that with Vexovoid. At this point, the riffs aren't as stellar as they have been on past endeavors and they really just kind of feel like Stereotypical Portal Riffs™ that I could get for a dime-a-dozen from a handful of other bands. When this was first released, I was complaining because I wanted something entirely new from the band, and I realize now that that's rather silly, but is it really too much to ask that the riffs are merely just as good as the albums before this one? I know, the band have been busy with other projects like Grave Upheaval and Impetuous Ritual, but they still had a grand total of four years to come up with, say, 25 quality riffs for an album that had to follow up on one of the best albums of the 21st century, and they wrote, like, maybe two of those and then stuffed the rest of the album with filler. Furthermore, the riffs just don't go anywhere. I understand Portal are hardly the most linear or ordinary band, but I think even the band's detractors will admit that the stuff on previous albums was pretty damn song-oriented. Vexovoid has me asking myself "okay, where the fuck is this supposed to be going?" way more times than any album should, and it's even worse that I never get a proper answer to that question. Portal will pull out one of the droning Outre' riffs, but it doesn't ever build up to a crushing climax or a destructive technical assault on your face. They stack mediocre riffs up in a way that makes you think the album is heading for some sort of world-shattering god-tier meta-riff, but in that hypothetical riff's place is another mediocre riff. The songwriting is solid, but it's like they took all the perfect riffs out of perfect song structures and replaced them with the sort of shit I'd come up with while jamming on my own guitar and saying to myself "gee I'm gonna try to sound like Portal now lololol".

The atmosphere is still undeniably Portal, that much has remained intact. It's potent shit in such a regard. But Vexovoid doesn't stand up well beyond the most superficial of observations, and so I don't feel comfortable with describing it with anything more enthusiastic than "good". It's good. If you want more Portal, then here it is. But I'm not going to be so kind to a second album's worth of material this unrefined and lazy, and I hope that you won't, either.