For those craving something a bit more esoteric and dark this Halloween, Xasthur’s Portal Of Sorrow might be worth a shot.
Xasthur: Portal Of Sorrow (2010)
This one-man project blends elements of traditional Black Metal with a disparate gloom sound unmatched by many in the industry. For those who don’t typically listen to a lot of experimental heavy music, Portal Of Sorrow is probably a good starting point as it is easily the most accessible entry in the Xasthur catalog. Some might still find it rather bleak or abrasive but it succeeds in what it sets out to do, creating an unsettling musical landscape behind a thick wall of interesting sounds.
Things begin unsettling off-kilter straight out of the cemetery gate with a hesitant drum beat. All things considered this opening track is actually quite beautiful with the raw acoustic guitar flourishes throughout. It is a perfect calm before the inevitable hellish storm that follows. Broken Glass Christening follows is an abstract song title that perfectly encapsulates the next song. The surprising, almost dissonant string sounds that open it would make Hitchcock proud. It is a tasteful homage to the score of the film Psycho that oddly works as it is different enough to not come across as a tacky sample clip.
The most remarkable thing about this album is how well it is sequenced and how wonderfully it flows from one song to the next. I’m trying to show some restraint by not doing a track-by-track synopsis here because this is one helluva composition. Shrine Of Failures is the third track and it closes out the first fifth of the record very well with an interesting beat that would be right at home in a silent black and white horror film. The ghoulish gargles that close this song out sound as if they are crying for help or perhaps begging for fresh souls from a hidden crypt beneath a decrepit mansion. What is impressive is how consistently well the mood travels across the duration of the entire album and how the quality never dips.
What follows on Xasthur’s Portal Of Sorrow is a masterfully crafted journey further and deeper into a Lovecraftian abyss. Every single instrument and sound is deliberately recorded and mixed to perfection with vocals used sparingly enough to remain interesting throughout the duration of the album. They are used in the classic Black Metal way as a means to highlight instrumental sections and illustrate a mood without ever overstaying their welcome or becoming the focal point. Overall, Portal Of Sorrow has taken a bit of time to grow on me but now that it has clicked, I consider it to be my new favorite October listen. Hell, I’ve already played it in its entirety four times today. I’m not sure if that’s a mentally healthy thing to do but at least you readers (or reader) will know what transported me to the cosmic, horrific land of Lovecraft’s most terrifying creatures. Just know that it was worth it and I have no regrets. Cthulhu I’m coming for you!