REVIEW: Portals – Desolation [EP/2019]

Artist: Portals

Album: Desolation – EP


Let’s discuss desolation—the notion of being barren—bereft of live and the will to carry on. I’m sure, in reading that description, that many of you have felt it, or something like it. Yeah? Yeah. These days it’s all too familiar, somewhere buried in the nuanced obsessive-compulsive need for attention and affection birthed by a dependence on social media, the tumultuous, violent and ostracizing sociopolitical climate and the evolving (dare I say devolving) human condition, the sensation of feeling drained of all will to go on is a second home for many.

And if you haven’t felt it, I—and others—are envious of you, but not for too much longer; because Portals are here to show you exactly what that feels like, firsthand.

Desolation is the band’s sophomore release and first offering since their debut effort, The Empty. The band’s 2015 breakout release turned some heads and snapped some necks, but served ultimately as a jumping off point from which the band would grow silent, turning inwards and growing, ultimately emerging with this—Desolation—an introspective and immense EP that stays true to the act’s downtempo deathcore roots without being too scared to spice things up.

Now, a lot has changed since 2015, but it should be noted that one thing that has stayed very much constant—Portals remain fucking heavy. The entirety of Desolation is an over-the-top, oppressive display of force, clocking in at just shy of 20 minutes of pure aggression. Percussionist Bill Kaszubowski does an outstanding job of bringing energy and flair to a genre that, all things being equal, doesn’t lend itself particularly well to “flash.” Downtempo deathcore—even its raw and raunchier entries—don’t tend to have remarkable drumming, but on cuts like “Scorched Earth” and “Persistence,” Kaszubowski does just that. He works alongside Scott McGinnis’ monstrous bass to bring a thick, devastating low end to every track Desolation delivers. Once more, the listener’s attention is drawn to “Persistence,” where McGinnis’ bass adds slab after slab of beef to the thick, plodding kick drum that serves as the track’s foundation. Meanwhile, guitarist James McHenry goes wild, adding over-the-top extras to “Persistence” and “Desolation” both, while keeping things groovy and low for the EP’s lead single. Together, the trio are immense, crafting breakdowns bold enough to shift mountains and slams that weave their way into and out of riffs effortlessly. McHenry’s work as a guitarist transcends the genre’s monotonous fare all while staying true to its roots, blending the likes of a modern Black Tongue with some of Traitors’ earlier material, sacrificing neither catchiness nor an overwhelming and oppressive sensation on doom with each chug.

Portals’ reign of punishment extends with consideration of the dynamic efforts from their frontman, Aris Hess. Hess’ range is matched only by his ability to emote on each track Desolation is comprised of. While “Scorched Earth” is raw, visceral and aggressive in both lyricism and delivery, “Persistence” and “Burdened” are more dynamic and introspective, with Hess’ voice wavering and quivering as he pushes through each line of words. Hess is another example of how Portals defy the downtempo standard; rather than a myriad of low, grisly gutturals about…well, nothing in particular, Hess tells a story on Desolation that matches the magnitude of the record’s impressive art. Where Hess truly takes the listener is a thing better left experienced than merely read about, but suffice it to say that Hess’ vocal efforts are a brilliant complement to Desolation’s devastating instrumentation.

Desolation remains, fundamentally, a downtempo release—which does open it up to a fair amount of criticism and skepticism, much of it earned. However, if I’ve hinted it at it once, I’ve hinted at it ten times: Portals aren’t another downtempo deathcore band, and Desolation isn’t another downtempo deathcore record. This crushing quartet do everything in their power to create something solid and familiar while still ensuring that it feels fresh and not quite like anything else. Case in point, Desolation, a record that is bound to having you Portaling to venues before too long to see this young act bring forth devastation ad vescendum.



For Fans Of: Traitors, Black Tongue, Bodysnatcher, VCTMS

By: Connor Welsh