As the release of Serpentscope TWO is getting closer, I thought it'd be a good time to publish my last remaining interview from issue ONE. Looking back, I still love all the bands I interviewed for that issue, so it's been a pleasure presenting the interviews online. Fittingly, the portal between issues ONE and TWO is served by - yes! - Portal. Damn would I like to witness this band live!
An interview with Illogium of Portal
Originally published in Serpentscope #1, October 2009.
"Weird, original, at times even technical death metal" wouldn't probably sell you on Portal. But what if I told you that these mad Australians are compelling like a combination Morbid Angel and Thergothon. Those two fit, because the feeling here is decidedly Lovecraftian but with what feels like less words. Unlike the labyrinths and catacombs of our beloved Howard Phillips, the looming depths of Portal don't take some dozen pages to manifest. Rather, it's like the last words of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, or Apocalypse Now, if you will: "The horror! The horror!"
During the last 25 years death metal has come to mean certain things in terms of both music and aesthetics. Portal keeps to some of those, but simultaneously steps over those genre conventions. In a way it feels that Portal's expression apparently comes from "nowhere," as though only driven by the concept and aesthetics of death (metal), but not usual genre gimmicks. It is here that the illogical becomes logical, so lead guitarist Illogium, in your opinion, would Portal sound the way it does if it weren't for the past 25 years of death metal tradition?
- Probably not, but it is in other artforms such as literature, paintings and film which spawned the actual feeling of the occult cinematic, panorama's in our music. Death Metal made in the 80's and 90's had a massive imprint on us as musicians, you can forget any Death Metal recorded in the last 10 years having any influence on Portal.
- We had appreciated and still do appreciate Heavy Metal, Speed Metal, Black Metal and Death Metal since childhood.
Portal feels both otherwordly and earthy at the same time. By no means are they a paradox, though, as is best evinced by their second album Outre'. Besides being the proverbial tunnel at the end of the light, Outre' might just be one of the very few albums which, despite being at times technical, doesn't fall into the traps of narcissism or self-indulgence. So how does it make you feel as a part of the creation process, for example, when you're writing and rehearsing the songs? In other words, would you please describe the state you’re in when you’re writing and rehearsing with Portal? I believe that you've played or still play in other, perhaps "more normal" bands, so what do you think are the biggest differences between Portal and other bands you've played in?
- When writing I can explain the feeling as hysterical when we know we've tapped into something exciting for us, rehearsing them is more of a trance like lucid state where the refining of said discovery becomes interesting.
- Speaking for myself, I have only ever recorded/played live in a very Occult Death Metal band and a Black Metal band, a few other members play in very warped and evil Death Metal bands presently.
Warped is a word one could definitely use with Portal as well. In a number of interviews (e.g. Nordic Vision #02), a kind of possession takes hold when Illogium is dealing with Portal. One just needs - in whatever order - to sit down, take a deep breath and listen to a song like Abysmill. I truly doubt that a John Smith would be able to provide his listeners with as horrific a glimpse of the abyss. When asked about his history with Portal, a certain member of Cauldron Black Ram said in this very zine that "None of us are in Portal though. In fact no-one is in Portal." At times I tend to get the same feeling: that no-one is in Portal. Metaphors and anecdotes aside, using pseudonyms probably helps Portal to get to a somewhat unconventional state of mind. But how conscious is the writing process with Portal?
- It is partly calculated when we decide to piece the organisms together and create the time signatures, but even that feels like a haze comes over us during the process.
- When we are just bringing sounds out of the guitars in the first stages of writing, that is unconscious creativity, seeing through another eye in my mind so to speak, a lot of the music sections are snippets of what I witness and will never sound close to the first time played, I have to come back down to make a conscious decision to repeat it otherwise I would just keep going on and on...
Granted, Portal has songs, not just subterranean jam sessions. The songs are complex and amoeba-like, sometimes even fairly technical, yet in no way is there a hint of egotism in the aura of the band. How important is it for you to keep egos out of Portal?
- We encourage the ego if it flows in the same direction therefore creating one. There is more than enough rewarding experience from creating this artform.
How do you see yourself and especially those musicians that are not full members - are you/they mere vehicles/tools/medium for a greater will or something?
- I have my tunnel mind and if others are travelling in the same way it will work, so far The Curator and Aphotic have stuck with it for years, they are consistant and stubborn also. We each have our own specialities and fields which are brought to Portal and it works well, I would say that Ignis Fatuus who has performed 3 shows with us and played on Swarth will be in it for the long run, as he has the same ideals.
- On Outre' we were lucky to have Monocular and Elsewhere play on the album and it made it really special sounding, they have been friends of ours for years but unfortunately they live too far away to make anything permanent happen, we are extemely happy with the members we are working with now.
- Past members who don't need mentioning were indeed apart of the greater will.
Ex-drummer Monocular does indeed deserve a mentioning for his work on Outre'. His ritualistic and doomful tom roll-fueled signatures are one key element that make the album different from basically any other album recorded in the 00's. Actually, make that any other metal album ever recorded. One way to describe Portal, then, is to use the word/concept Ancient in the sense that T. Ketola uses it in Dauthus ‘zine (#3 Appendix): "Listening to the doomy end parts of "Sudden Combustion“ on the Corpse Molestation demo ’92, I get to think this is old material – not ten or a dozen years, but thousands of years – it is the primordial breath of Tiamat’s demons." Do you ever get the feeling that Portal is about communing with and channeling, for lack of a better term, some kind of primordial energies?
- Definitely, there are no words for the human tongue to decribe this. It comes from deep within sick negativity.
So put that in a needle and stick it in your arm! Indeed, it would probably be anyone's first guess that without substance use it's impossible to attain such trance-like states. However, according to Illogium, he "can't recall anything special about any substance that may have been taken."
If we use the "ends of the scales" metaphor yet again, Portal's music sounds both progressive and regressive (yes, very relative terms) at the same time. If we then think of music as a journey, it would seem that Portal is headed toward primitive/primordial ritualistic pounding, which some people might consider a state of regression. How does Illogium see their development from Seepia to Outre’ and beyond – where is Portal heading?
- The problem with Death Metal is that it has lost its feeling and has become about level of skill and speed, we're interested in creating an atmosphere where you forget that it's actually created on instruments at all, the development from Seepia to Outre' is exactly that - a development for our ideal atmosphere. We're heading into more poisonous worlds but with even more potency, bands fall into a trap of trying to outdo themselves, when all that should matter is idealism and the piece of art at hand for the time.
In one interview – Nordic Vision #02 from late 2008 – Illogium stated that "Metal instruments are very limited in this way," referring to the fact that it’s not very common in rock and metal that the music ends up surprising you when you’re done working on it. How would he, then, elaborate on the limited quality of metal instruments? I mean, what is the biggest challenge they present to an artist in terms of achieving his musical/artistic aims? This is of course a hypothetical question, but how do you think a different selection of instruments would change the essence of Portal?
- We're forever attempting to imitate orchestral symphonies, we would like the opportunity to manipulate Horns, Strings and Percussion sections.
Third album Swarth is going to be released in October. Based on the sample track Larvae currently available on Portal's Myspace the album doesn't yet indulge Illogium's craving for classical instruments, but what it does is make Portal's attack more in-your-face than on either of its predecessors. What kind of initial aims did you have for the album? Can you tell anything concrete that you did to achieve even more "looming and depth," to quote you from the Nordic Vision interview once again?
- The initial aim for Swarth was to make the art even more direct, more so that our music can be heard far clearer than before, this has been achieved, and I must state that the guitar tone is fantastic. More Looming and Depth was achieved by using 8-string guitars with more depth of scale and submergence, the drumming is more spiraling and heavy.
As has been discussed in this very zine even, in recent years more and more death/black metal bands have been focusing on the occult, the image, the ideology and the lyrics. In other words, Lovecraftian themes aren't exactly in vogue when it comes to underground death/black metal. We shouldn't forget, though, that Portal isn't just any Lovecraft-inspired band nor do the Lovecraft influences in any be all and end all way define the band. Notwithstanding, one could say that with certain bands the obsession in the occult has gone too long already in that they're not giving any value to the true power, energy and Magick of Death Metal that originally spawned the genre through bands like Possessed and Mantas? What do you think, is there something in the very early death metal recordings that simply can't be amplified or made more powerful?
- I believe those bands were spawned at a very special time, the energy and aura was not a conscious premeditated motive, it was all in the flow of discovery, nowadays bands attempt to sound like the old classic bands and try to capture that same spirit instead of their own, I believe that retreading steps cannot wield as much power as the originators for certain. Magick in art is beyond consciousness or calculation. And then you have a plethora of bands using the Occult for aesthetic and yet fail to capture its prescence on the music itself.
Even Illogium has sometimes used the words "magical garbs" and "horror rituals" to refer to the band's attire and live gigs respectively. As said, those are pretty powerful words that are these days used anything but sparingly by black/death metal bands... How would you define magic and ritual in Portal's context?
- Indeed powerful affimations. These terms define the state of mind we enter during a performance, it is a ritual because we summon an energy that only we can summon and as we rarely play live it is very rewarding.
- The magic is our own and I can only describe it as an invisible unwritten force.
What about extremity, then. As you say above, all too many black/death metal bands are just trying to outdo themselves with speed, skill and so on. What does the word extreme bring to your mind these days as regards music? In what respect, if any, do you see Portal as extreme music?
- The bands I am referring to above... I would not call extreme in any way, shape or form, playing fast and technical in that style sounds well executed, tight and pretty and usually with a gay production with drum triggers etc (VOMIT).
- Extreme Metal should be ugly and horrible and in this way I would call Portal Extreme Death Metal! We are into something deeper than just trying to impress people with however many notes or beats per second, if we create a simple structure and really delve into the way it moves then that is what is important. The ultimate extreme music was created by Sadistik Exekution years ago, pure kaos and madness in every facet of the band.
I’d like to conclude with a favourite quote of mine from William Blake’s "Marriage of Heaven and Hell": "Good is the passive that obeys Reason: Evil is the active springing from Energy." To what extent, and at which stages, does reason come into play with Portal?
- Not reason, just total freedom to explore and contain the unbalanced.