A visit to Portal's studio is not a typical look behind the scenes at the "rock-start" life style so often exuded by today's young musicians. The posters of Maynard James Keenan and Trent Reznor, lava lamps casting predictable shadows across garage sale shag, and the musty aroma of "contemplative stimulation" are all noticeably absent in this particular cradle of creativity. Instead, the walls are adorned with maps and post-it notes, and servers and computer towers line the floor. With the exception of a few scented candles scattered across the desktops, at first glance one might think the business-like atmosphere a sterile environment for the cultivation of the mind, but the band insists that true inspiration comes from within, not from a contrived simulation of mood and emotion. If you've ever heard Portal's music, it's difficult to argue with them.
Portal is a propulsive amalgam of powerfully packaged grooves, insightful lyrics, and moralistic ideals. Intelligent by design and intellectual by nature, the band actively challenges listeners and members alike to demand more from music, more from society, and more from life itself. Portal deftly combines the progressive rhythmic complexity of Tool, the richly textured orchestration of VAST, the intricate production of Filter, and the raw emotive pull of Nine Inch Nails into a brilliant array of insightfully stimulating music, incorporating a rich tapestry of global instrumentation and a socially conscious lyrical motivation, into a truly unique sonic and psychosomatic experience.
Portal began in 2000 as an exploratory outlet for founder and creative core, Kenton Thomas. Raised on classical piano, Kenton began developing technique and an appreciation for musical composition right from the young age of four, but it was not until his teen years that he started to explore the diverse world of popular music, eventually drawn in by the thriving west-coast grunge movement propagated by the Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden. It was the latter of these that sparked Kenton's initial interest in unorthodox time signatures and complex rhythms, now a signature of Portal's sound, and drove his exploration deeper into progressive and ethereal realms, unearthing the likes of Tool and Nine Inch Nails, and gaining his first in-depth taste of the digital music revolution. Recording gear and time away from university were a natural next step, and a year of recording and developing material eventually yielded Portal's first EP.
From the band's first live performance, a second place finish at the University of Alberta's Battle of the Bands in 2001, to their win at the Adopt-A-Band Independent Artist Challenge later that year, to being selected as a finalist in the 2002 National Songwriting Competition, Portal has continued to evolve, grow and mature. Despite various successes and setbacks, Kenton feels each and every step has been building towards this moment. Even Portal's line-up was not solidified until last year when guitarist Rosco Brooks and drummer Bill George were added to the fold, but its current incarnation is the most capable yet. "The last four years have been an unforgettable voyage, but it's really been more of an education than anything else," says bassist and original member Kevin Hoskin. "For Portal, the real journey starts here."
Element is, without a doubt, Portal's most mature anthology to date, and one that Kenton and the band consider to be the first true representation of their visions and tastes. The album is a collection of songs from Portal's last release that the band painstakingly picked apart, rebuilt from the ground up, and moulded into a product they can finally call their own. "The purpose of Element was experimentation, through and through," says Kenton. "From vocal approach to percussive instrumentation, mixing techniques and graphic design - nothing was sacred. We used six different snare drums during the recording process. I wanted us to fully explore our individual and collective tastes, as well as our capabilities and limitations, and come out the other side with a much better idea of where we've been, where we're going, and who we are. If nothing else, we achieved that goal beautifully, and we will be more successful in the years to come because of it."
In an age when decisions are all-too-often governed by beaurocratic executives, disconnected pop producers, and the proverbial "bottom line", the artistic integrity that Portal has displayed through their work on Element is an inspiring demonstration of a focussed dedication to one's craft, and a meticulous attention to detail. Five years of growth and maturation, three years of creative development, and ten months of hard work have finally come to fruition. This is Portal, in the state of mind and environment they find most comfortable.
This is Portal, in their element.