Ion is buried in details it willingly blurs. Ion can be summed up with an easy set of descriptors, to the point that I almost wrote this review with nothing but references to deep moans and explosions of shredded guitar tones. It might’ve looked like this:
*MOAN* *GUITAR RIFF* *MOAN AGAIN* *DIFFERENT GUITAR RIFF* *INCOHERENCE* *APOCAYLPSE* *ANOTHER GUITAR RIFF*
I would’ve also probably set aside the track “Phreqs,” whose jogged two-chord march divebombs into the early half of the album and offers a nice break in the violence exploding around it. But, barring an eye in the storm, Portal are constant in their pace, to the point that I couldn’t zero in on anything outside of their concentrated displays of millennial metal mayhem.
But that’s not fair to Portal or Ion, which is way more dynamic than a bunch metallic non sequitur really imply. The record settles often before erupting into another banzai charge of heavy metal nonsense wrapped around vague notions of “song.” Guitars might hover, but they might also gallop! They might frill and trill or dive and glide! There’s moments of construction and deconstruction, more like movements in a symphony than the rollicking builds of doom and death.
It’s so difficult to narrow in on specific moments, though. Ion is a record that smothers and almost desensitizes its listeners.
There are so many moments where Portal is firing on all cylinders, to the point that an individual song is more of a pulverizer than an honest-to-god piece of songcraft.
There’s maybe an 80 percent chance that any moment set aside for dissection has every instrument violently berating whatever mic was used to record it.
Traditional moments of metal music still might serve as scaffolding, though. Take mid-album churner “Crone.” It builds in what is potentially the most conventional example of dramatic construction on the record, slowly adding pieces before becoming the eruptive force that typifies most of Ion. Of course there’s reckless abandon once lead singer “The Curator” begins his rumbling death howls of “PRAY FOR SICKNESS.” But then, just as everything wraps up in reckless cacophony, the song actually fades out.
That’s about it as far as tradition goes, though. Maybe the fizzled denouement “Olde Guarde” also qualifies for concluding the record with minutes of ambient crackle a la The Caretaker, but its opening salvos, like the rest of Ion, are eruptive, guitar driven buzzsaws.
Those more destructive impulses make Ion a hell of an exhilarating listen, though. Within those eruptions are layers of guitars to parse, with technical sweeps that are individually exciting and together overwhelming. The recording itself details each of those instruments, meaning an individual note can punch a pressure point just as much as a whole song can bearhug. The Curator’s groan is maybe tiring, but it only goes as far as ambient coloring and takes a backseat to the far more powerful frontline of guitars and drums.
Ion is maybe better experienced as an ambient record than a metal album. While a lot of the blogsphere attributes structure to Ion, Portal seems more intent to rack those structures with the kind of totalitarian abandon afforded to genres that aren’t as bound to formula. Instead, it plays up the details in the recording, amplifying them to the intensity of a noise record that would favor sound to song. Ion is one of those rare messes where everything feels intentional and vital.