Baldruin (Johannes Schebler) has just completed a hat trick. Miniaturen, a collection of foreboding yet tiny tracks, arrived in January on A Giant Fern. This was followed in August by the mysterious, synth-drenched tape Klaue on SPAM. These tapes have now been joined by the clear vinyl Portal. The first of these albums was dark ambient, the second drone; the third combines the best of both worlds, while continuing the high quality. And while the tracks are longer, they’re still not long; the longest tops out at only 4:03.
Variety is the name of the game on Portal. “Im Verlies” starts with the sound of monsters roaming the streets, chortling and chanting ~ one can almost make out the whispers of protest. (“Why are you?”) They are soon joined by creaks, rattles and sneakers on a hardwood floor. Perhaps someone is trying to get away. But this album’s path is unpredictable. “Night Vision” introduces a melodic electronic line, laid across distorted synths, and “Splitterbruch” dives headfirst into a well of abstraction. The record may be clear, but the genre is not. When we realize that the title means “comminuted fracture” (a bone fracture into more than two sections), we realize that the track is a metaphor for the artist’s transformation. Portal is the infected bite, the contents of the test tube, the radioactive exposure. The magnitude of danger increases in “Auf der Lauer” (“On the Lurk”), yet this is only a setup for the next shift.
The center of the album, beginning with “Deux Ex Machina”, is frequently pretty, decorated with sweet ambient washes and tender bells. Something alluring lies at the heart of the beast: the Dr. Jeckyll, the hidden prince. This sonic shift is extremely difficult to pull off, but Baldruin does it well, as subtle as a curtain blowing in the wind. An industrial influence grows apparent, especially on “No Escape”; no surprise, given the album’s German origin.
In the final third, the forces of dark and light seem to have come to a tentative agreement, neither ceding ground nor continuing to fight. Tribal drums set the mark in “Durchs Dichicht” (“Through the Thicket”), but a piano closes the deal. Drones swirl in “Unter Druck” (“Under Pressure”), but melodic keys and acoustic guitar lend warmth to “Abschied” (“Parting”). In the end, the artist seems to have reconciled the different parts of his personality to create a unified whole. When played in order, the last three albums tell a story of transformation, a dark tale with a satisfying conclusion. (Richard Allen)