For those unfamiliar with Portal’s hybrid stylizations of death metal, black metal, and the collapsing vortex daymare of a park walk with H.P. Lovecraft, the Australian group didn’t just suddenly appear on the metal landscape. The band most famously (and often) advertised by Phil Anselmo has been creating the auditory equivalent of a black hole set in the middle of a Victorian still life painting since 1994. If the reference seems elusive, it’s deliberately so. Theatrics and the art of the gimmick are as tied to metal as the Devil himself, with most bands falling somewhere on the spectrum of painfully unironic to ironically painful. Portal remains anomalous in the wide berth of parlor trick theatrics, though. The fact is that it wouldn’t matter if vocalist The Curator wore a grandfather clock or a traffic cone for a mask. Portal’s music remains the band’s most visceral and horrifically brilliant selling point. Last year’s Vexovoid was the band’s finest to date with just the slightest adjustment in sound production providing a kind of unhindered focus on the dizzying complexities of the band’s compositional prowess.
Deceptively technical, the most overwhelming component of Portal’s music is the synchronous churn that results from each musician contributing to what’s essentially an auditory singularity. This year’s Housecore Horror Film Festival will see the stateside debut of a film projection coinciding with Portal’s set at the Fest. Judging by the band’s penchant for unnerving imagery paired alongside music that’s equally as disturbing and compelling, the film projection may very well offer festivalgoers the brief opportunity to look over the threshold and into the gaping maw of Cthulhu or at least recall at least a few plotlines from True Detective. I had the opportunity to ask lead guitarist/founding member Horror Illogium a few questions regarding the band’s upcoming performance as well as what it is (if anything) that makes the band tick.
Noisey: Portal will be showing an exclusive, one-time only live projection show to coincide with its performance at this year’s Housecore Horror Festival. Is this something the group has considered before, or was it a direct result of being invited to this particular festival?
Horror Illogium: There have been three performances in past years which have featured the projector, however this was only available to us a venue called The Globe of our home town. Obviously Housecore Horror Fest has the capabilities at our disposal, this will be the first projector show outside of Australia.
Does visual stimulus play a role in the creation of Portal’s music in terms of the members creating sounds to illicit mental imagery within the listener?
The intended visuals in mind carry the music however we would never want the visuals on-screen to dominate our performance, much more subtle imagery is used for subconscious effect, we have let the visual artists at the controls do their worst which has been inspired by Portal in the first place.
Will there be a wide selection of songs from the band’s discography or were certain songs deliberately selected to coincide with the film projection being shown?
The music comes first, there is a wide selection from our discography always, the visuals adapt to our set as a secondary element.
Horror has been a part of heavy metal since its very beginnings with Black Sabbath. It’s a fascinating dynamic given that it’s found almost exclusively within the genre. Do you see the creation of Portal’s music as a reflection of the members’ own intrinsic understandings of fear as realized through personal experience, or is it more of an extrinsic process of accessing the fear of the listener?
The feeling of horror is a satisfying platform for us. We selfishly explore the abhorrent side of life.
Much of Portal’s aesthetic is concerned with antiquated technology and a kind of refracted view of Victorian-era mythos, while the music itself offers a contrast with structured chaos, so to speak. Does the resistance of those two seemingly warring ideas present the kind of environment where the group’s most potent forms of creativity are found?
Perhaps, it is the art of taking matter and turning it into something it was never intended to be, a warped bastardization.
Is there any kind of improvisation when it comes to the construction of a Portal song, or is there more of a structuralized approach? Or perhaps a combination of the two?
Definitely structured with deliberation.
One point of distinction with Portal’s music compositionally speaking is the use of tom-driven rhythms over the more often used blast beat or snare in death metal. Is this something the group capitalized on from the very beginning, or was there a gradual discovery of that specific direction?
This grew simply from the boredom presented by so many bands relying on a mundane approach to percussion, less is more and speed most certainly is not everything.
The horror genre’s earliest filmmakers such as Méliès or later with Wegener or Murnau created films that are still captivating and frightening despite the comparable lack of technology. Much of that induced fear seems to come from simple atmospheric or lighting techniques. Is that same simplicity something employed by Portal with regards to the atmosphere created by the music?
It is often the unseen and mysterious that will captivate with suspense, the inhumanity and coldness is another factor, obviously old horror films are inspiring to us.
While self-imposed anonymity can be seen as a gimmick itself, it seems as if Portal’s reasoning lies in a directed desire to place all focus on the music rather than persona. Is utilizing certain theatric elements while maintaining that sole focus on the music itself a difficult balance to maintain?
It is all relative, the way we present ourselves visually is the same mentality we put into our music. It is a very natural extension of ourselves. The term of “anonymity” was put upon us by outsiders, our artistic expression is our focus.
Where did your relationship to music start with regards to those artists, whether visual or auditory or both, who provided the initial motivation or influence for you to become a musician?
Personally I've been a fan of heavy metal and horror since the mid 80s, you could combine the likes of Slayer with The Shape from Halloween as my earliest childhood obsessions for the guitar and horror.
Jonathan Dick is on Twitter - @Jonathan_K_Dick