In Memoriam: Edmonton’s PORTAL
There is a specific feeling which arises in a person when they learn something they love is gone, be it a person, an object, or in this case, a band. The Toilet’s own HessianHunter is well aware of the depths of such a crushing blow in his discovery of the late Humanfly. I am confident that we have all experienced learning a band recently discovered and loved will ne’er again play music — we can hope for a reunion, but we know by the time whatever problems caused the end of the group have been resolved life will have taken its toll on the members (and consequently, their music); the snippet of art we received will remain a snapshot in time, never again to be paralleled. Join me, friends, as I talk about Edmonton’s own that ended too soon: Portal.
In the summer of 2013 I was introduced to more extreme types of music than to which I was previously listening. Noise, avant-garde, artistic music of all spectrums — it was a time of discovery for me, and through that period in my life I learned to never stop challenging the self, that through my struggle to understand things which were beyond me I was growing as an artist and as a person. It was during this exploration that I was introduced to the extreme black metal band, Portal. Immediately I was intrigued, and that night after rehearsal decided to look them up.
Eventually I did find them, but not before coming across something very interesting: an Edmonton-based progressive rock band, also named Portal. Being actively engaged in the scene at that time in a progressive metal/rock band but not aware of this group, I listened to their album Blood Red Tape and was instantly hooked. Seldom do I hear local groups that I love enough to listen to them as much as musicians from other geographical locations (that may be due to “prophets without honour,” or because Edmonton simply has a poor music scene in general; regardless, it’s a question best left to a different article), but Portal grabbed me in the same way as had Porcupine Tree or Tool.
These comparisons are not idly chosen. Portal takes the progressive nature of Porcupine Tree and Tool, progression rooted in groove, mood, and organic composition, realizing the strength of phrasing that flows naturally through and across time signatures and complex rhythm. This is no Dream Theater, or Spock’s Beard, or even Leprous. Blood Red Tape understands its own pace, bringing the listener in through the ebb and flow of energy between and within songs. It is a patient music, giving release and aggression the exact moment the subtle buildup of the ostinato could take no more.
Listen to “Your Kettle”:
Like any great album, there is variety on Portal’s Blood Red Tape; variety in structure and length and style, and yet the songs that shine the brightest are their longest. Each musician knows their place perfectly, providing stability and structure to a purposed music, stepping out of their placement in the song as a whole only for brief snippets — and even then only when the song has allowed for such a step. These rare moments are usually typified by a drum break, but never stray into the territory of musical masturbation. Even when an individual element of the greater whole takes a forefront, its spotlight is consistently checked by its firm awareness of situation. These breaks are musical, designed to complement the song rather than any individual performer. Though each individual performer’s musical prowess has been seldom paralleled in the professional music scene (let alone the local), their concept of and commitment to the song as a piece of art is never swayed.
Listen to “We Kuffar”:
When I discovered Portal were no more, I was genuinely saddened — both because I will never be able to experience them live and because I have nothing new to look forward to from them. And yet, in an odd way, I feel that such an end is fitting for Portal’s music. They have provided a snapshot into a specific time, place, and mood in their lives, and in doing so have also given me a snapshot of a reaction. Blood Red Tape is a regular listen for me, and in its finite nature has been raised above offerings from other artists who through repetitive stagnation drove their sound into the ground, album after album. Though Blood Red Tape‘s songs never change, my love of it never wanes, and in my desire for more, sated only by the same album over and over, I have learned to appreciate something not readily available, unyielding to my desires. Portal gave me a small piece of art, and in the same way we treasure the memories of loved things now lost, I hold onto the small glimpse of beauty afforded me in Blood Red Tape.
Listen to “Call to Arms II: Jebel Moon”: