Album: The Empty – EP
Without warning, you are thrust into the great unknown—a chasm of unlimited emptiness, ever-expanding and engulfing everything you know and love. The void grows, devouring the world around you without any sign of stopping or slowing in the slightest. Central Illinois’ latest and most devastating addition to the downtempo deathcore scene, Portals, attack with the listener with much the same voracity and aggression. This crushing quartet are a lesson in intensity, with their debut EP, The Empty, Portals prove that they are anything but. Deep, looming drums and monstrous guitars combine with lurid, bouncy bass and grisly vocals to provide a comprehensively combative and cruel experience that will spawn violence from thin air and turn crowds into mosh pits in mere seconds.
The Empty is built on a relatively standard foundation of slow, solemn instrumentation effected with sludgy, grimy tones and sturdy song structure. Where Portals differ from your standard, ultra-sinister downtempo deathcore ensemble is with their moments of almost-djent influenced groove and flashes of quick, technical vivacity among their typical pallet of bleak, dismal darkness. Percussionist Michael McNally serves as the wrought-iron core from which The Empty is built, with his driving drumming functioning as Portals’ steadily beating heart. While McNally might not be the fastest or most fill-heavy drummer out there, he brings energy and bounce to what might otherwise be a somewhat boring and monotonous experience. Moments like the dancy two-step portions of “Apex” and “Deceit” give listeners something to do other than crowd-kill, while his quick fills during the unbelievably slow climax to “Scum” keep the listener’s heart from stopping. McNally’s kit is made even heavier sounding by working in perfect harmony with bassist Steve Dupre. Dupre syncs subtly with McNally’s monstrous bass to give each thick thwack an extra sense of oomph, pushing each breakdown deeper into the listener’s flesh, drawing blood with every cracking snare hit. Between Dupre and McNally, Portals have a perfect low end—one that flows smoothly beneath the behemoth-sized grooves from guitarist James McHenry. McHenry goes from low, slow and lurid (“Scum” does this especially well) to up-beat and quick (but still dissonant) during the energetic closer, “Wolves.” This track especially combines Portals’ penchant for groove with their foundation of furious downtempo deathcore, rounding out The Empty’s ambitious attack on the listener’s senses.
Atop The Empty’s intense instrumental dynamic, Portals provide a punishing vocal element that combines low, grisly guttural bellows with mid-range yells and occasionally piercing shrieks—all flowing well together to keep the listener’s ear aching after every syllable. Frontman Adam Trzinski is, simply put, terrifying—especially on his catchy bellows during the introduction to “Apex,” or the at the climactic groove of “Wolves.” Trzinski’s range may be ever so slightly above average, but when combined with this steady candor and marked endurance, his vocal skills become considerable. “Apex” especially shows him at his best, with layered portions to give a full idea of his range and malicious vocal pushes and cues to bring on some of Portals’ most spastic moments of skin-shredding heaviness.
Trzinski’s vocals combine with McHenry and Dupre’s fretwork atop McNally’s percussion to function—at times—as another instrument, blending beautifully to induce maelstroms of murderous heaviness (at the apex of “Apex,” for example). While, at times, Trzinski’s vocals seem to be mixed in a slightly flat manner, at other times, his screams leap from the listener’s speakers and shred skin like knives. With only very few faults (“Deceit” containing a majority of them, as the album’s most underwhelming track), The Empty is an outrageously fun and furious debut release that sees Portals bursting forth from…well, nowhere, to take the scene by storm. Moments like the track (and world)-ending breakdown in “Scum” might leave crowds slack-jawed and unsure of how to even move to it, while the two-steppy, bouncy “Apex” is fast-paced enough to get senior citizens moving their feet. The take-home is simple: Portals might not do much new, but they do a tried-and-true style of horrendously heavy music incredibly well, transporting the listener to a state of pure enjoyment in mere seconds.
For Fans Of: Black Tongue, Traitors, Bodysnatcher, Rex
By: Connor Welsh