Sometimes you listen to a new album from a band and wonder what went down in their lives to cause such a drastic change. Enter Town Portal’s Of Violence. Something about math rock, to me, has always had trouble ever sounding anything other than upbeat and, if not happy, then at least contented. Yet Of Violence manages to sound dark, eerie, and foreboding. Where The Occident was a triumph of soaring delights and feelings of overcoming diversity, Of Violence sounds like the fossil record of an event that left an indelible scar.
Of Violence dirties up Town Portal’s sound, increasing the grit and grime on the guitars and bass, allowing classic octave effects to sound threatening this time around. Liberal use of shimmering reverb gives songs like “Receiving End” an otherworldly sound, contributing to the overall unease that the album works hard to foster. “Soil to Own” dials back on the math rock elements in favor of occasional bouts of minimalism, while incorporating even more heaviness.
The intro to “Roko’s Basilisk” tricks you into expecting the post-hardcore vocals of Kowloon Walled City. Instead, you are kicked in the head with a hard bass polyrhythm that wouldn’t be out of place in a Meshuggah tune, and Town Portal isn’t shy about the influence. When the riff settles down, the track retreats to the intro theme which again leaves you thinking you’ve switched to a slightly cleaner Kowloon Walled City tune. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s hard not to compare Of Violence to The Occident, since that album was one of my favorites of 2015. Of Violence is heavier and darker. The same excellent songwriting is there, the clever use of rhythms and chords, knowing when to spice it up and when to let it sink in. However, where The Occident was entirely comfortable with fast parts, Of Violence opts instead for slow, and this is one of the stand-out differences. The punchier and more in your face drums from Of Violence drive this home.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Town Portal have another winner on their hands. The attention to detail throughout the album is exquisite, and every bar feels purposeful. “Vanitas” ends the album with sardonic lead guitar lines which seem to ask the question: if none of what we encounter in life can be avoided, why even try and fight it? Accept what life throws at you, deal with it, and move on. Then a darker and slower turn suggests that maybe giving up is ultimately death. And yet we are left with the sound of birds. Maybe there is something left, after all is said and done.