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It's really getting to be lame when I have to keep leveling the same complaints at so many modern metal albums, but here we go again – this is just too long and has no really good hooks. Portait is a hot young band and they've been getting accolades for years now. Personally I just can't get into it much – sure, it's good for what it is and all, it'd be tough to claim this is offensive to the ears or unpleasant to listen to. But it's just not all that amazing, and the band still has a long way to go, I think.
The basis for the sound is basically just Mercyful Fate – that's the most audible influence by a country mile. You get the fiery, scorching leadwork and molten metal guitar tone, the frantic, fast-paced riffing and even a wild vocal performance that sort of sound like King Diamond, a bit. But the songwriting just isn't there. Don't Break the Oath had guitar work that was as much about old 70s style metal as it was about new, extreme, scary stuff – you could hear the band with one foot in the grave and one foot in some sort of time portal to future extremity. It was great – Satanic theatricality mixed with the heavist, meanest, loudest and most unforgettable metal out there. Portrait just don't have even close to the same level of catchiness or the same presence with every riff. Their songs often replace grounded catchy moments with over-long repetition, like eight or nine minute songs at times, and while none of the songs are bad, none of them will stick with you either. The vocals are solid, but just not all that distinct, and he spends more time wailing in the super high registers, as opposed to creating hooky, dramatic lines that we'll remember later. It sounds, overall, like the band just listened to Mercyful Fate and stuff that came out later, and didn't spend enough time listening to the roots - Deep Purple, Priest, Motorhead, Sabbath, et cetera. That's where the secret lies. You need great hooks. Fate had it, and Portrait just does not on this album.
And yeah, it's not a crime to be not as good as Mercyful fucking Fate of all bands. Tracks like “Beast of Fire” or “Bloodbath” sound energized and heavy, which is good, but they also just don't have the charisma and personality Fate had at their best. Every song starts with a good riff but then they don't really do much interesting with it – they play complex and fast, but they forsake any moments that would really barb themselves into the listener's brain. Just playing fast and heavy isn't good enough, you need memorable hooks – Portrait on here go for more of an epic, multi-layered complexity, but that isn't as well done as I'd like either. The comparison in sounds to Mercyful Fate is so near identical that you kind of have to make the comparison, and Portrait come out the losers there very, very easily. I just don't see a point in mimicking one specific band's iconic sound so slavishly – that also goes for bands who ape Blind Guardian and other such instantly recognizable bands, mind you. It's too easy to make the comparison, and the standards are just too high. These guys are talented, and hopefully they improve later, but this is really just an OK album, and nothing more.
On the surface, Portrait don't come across as anything particularly spectacular. Really, we have seen all of this before - a group of (often Swedish) youngsters forms a band which is modeled after the glory days of it's respective genre. Really, I can't complain about this current trend (or what-have-you), because in my opinion, many of these bands are actually very good, and have something very special and intriguing to offer the heavy metal community as a whole. However, many detractors think differently: they say that the "classic metal style" is just a trend, a fad, which will wither and die, because it is nothing more than an imitation, a mock-up, of something that has already happened, thus making the genre too focused on emulating a past style or sound than progressing further and creating new styles and sounds. However, I think that one big problem exists with this argument: if the current retro-metal scene is just an "imitation", what happens when a band releases an album that challenges even the bands they are supposedly "imitating"?
To be more specific, how does that explain an album like Portrait's "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae"? To most people, this will probably be passed off as a "pretty good Mercyful Fate imitation", and then left on the CD shelf to gather dust. Hell, before I bought the album, that's what I was expecting it to be! However, I had not even completed the first track before I realized that I had stumbled upon something else...something that completely convinced me, right off the bat, that Portrait are much more than "another Mercyful Fate imitation". Here is a band that is giving us a familiar lyrical and thematic base - complete and utter submergence in the black arts of Satan - but is doing it with a degree of passion and energy, arguably not seen since the glory days of the genre - in the bands Portrait is so often criticized for emulating. Beyond even that, however, is a sense of song-writing and overall memorability that almost surpasses it's "original incarnation". I will not try to convince you that this is "better" than "Don't Break the Oath" or "Abigail", that would be absurd (and physically impossible in "Abigail"'s case!), but this is certainly much more than just an imitation of those albums. It is something all it's own...
Of course, comparisons to Mercyful Fate are not unfounded. The teamwork employed by guitar duo Lindell and (now departed) Lagergren is undeniably comparable to what Denner and Shermann offered on their albums together with Mercyful Fate, in the sense that both guitarists are able to support each other with extremely powerful and memorable rhythms, while the other lays upon us, an unholy mass of SHRED. Just listen to the track "Bloodbath", for an exceptional example of the duo's ability to combine a powerful rhythm with a melodic lead, with a great deal of incredibly complex song-writing ideas weaving in and out of the song. The primary point of comparison to the work of "Fate", however, will be Per Karlsson's unearthly shrieks, which are similar (in style - not in "voice") to King Diamond during the original incarnation of Mercyful Fate, and the first two King Diamond albums. As previously mentioned, however, Karlsson does not (to me) sound identical to King. Karlsson has a sharper, more melodic style, which is a very far cry from King's unearthly, demonic wails. However, just like with King, Karlsson is not "all highs", he also supplies us with an incredibly eerie (and effective) deeper vocal, which is reminiscent of King's now long-abandoned "moaning" vocal style (you know, "COME COME - TO THE SABBATH..."), which is often only used for a handful of lines in each song, with the only real exception being the 8-minute closer, "Der Todesking", which (save for a lone scream) is sung entirely in this deeper pitch (though even then, a large portion of the song is instrumental, taken up by some incredible riff and lead-work, courtesy or Lagergren and Lindell).
However, despite all these links to the work of Mercyful Fate, in my opinion Portrait are still able to come out, in the end, with a sound all their own. I don't think that a majority of the riffs are comparable to Fate at all, as evidenced by the stomping of "Darkness Forever" or the quasi-black metal influence shining through on the incredibly catchy "The Nightcomers". Another reason I say this, however, is because Portrait's music puts across a completely different atmosphere from that of Fate, in the sense that Portrait is much bleaker, and more depressing. At the risk of sounding like a completely insufferable music nerd, I will say this: If listening to "Melissa" or "Don't Break the Oath" could be equated to burning in Hell, or performing some ancient ritual to summon the powers of Satan, "Crimen..." could be more easily equated to the feeling of staring off into a blank, overcast sky and just knowing that something is wrong. That something, of course, being the rise of the Anti-Christ, come to cleanse the land of all Christian filth. The music is bleak, and brooding like an overcast sky, yet majestic and grandiose like an ancient, Gothic cathedral (which just so happens to be the album's cover!). The lyrics are another story altogether, combining utter hatred and depravity with an overlaying mock sympathy, showcased in lines like "Heaven is calling now - hear ye not, children of God?" or "Constant prayers are heard, but no one will ever answer. The empty graves are calling - can't you hear their laughter?". You really can't compare one Satanic lyric to another Satanic lyric and decide which one is "more Satanic" (that's alot like trying to decide which corpse is deader!), except for Mercyful Fate's "The Oath", which goes without saying, but I would argue that Portrait definitely have a head start against bands like Deicide in this department.
The production is also a breath of fresh air for those of us who have grown tired of the clean, polished production which has taken over the metal scene in recent years. The production is raw, muddy, and full of life. If someone told me that this was released in 1986, it would not even cross my mind that they could be lying. I don't know if these recordings are digital or analogous, but it certainly sounds like the latter which is obviously a positive aspect in every meaning of the word!
All in all, this album is an absolute masterpiece of metal! I can't guarantee that you will fall in love with this album, as I have, but I do think it's something that should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of classic heavy metal. As I said earlier, most people will probably think "Oh, it sounds alot like Fate!" and then not think twice about it, and that's fine, but I am urging everyone to at least check it out, because I think it's a fucking gem, and that this band is really onto something. To me, this should be mentioned in the same breath as undeniable masterpieces like "Sad Wings of Destiny", "Abigail", "Don't Break the Oath", or "Somewhere in Time"...okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, at the very least I wouldn't be at all surprised if somewhere down the line, it is re-discovered and is given the treatment it deserves, as a classic of the "10's era", or whatever people call this era, if it even is an era. I strongly recommend buying this album!!
If you are interested check out these songs:
"Infinite Descension", "Bloodbath", "The Nightcomers".
In Solitude and Portrait's career seem to follow a parallel path. Both are from Sweden and play the same style of Mercyful Fate-inspired heavy metal. They released their debut albums in the same year with underground heavy metal labels. Now in 2011 and during the same month, they released their sophomore albums with the legendary Metal Blade. Despite this coincidences, both bands have taken separate ways this time.
While In Solitude have gone for a '70s-inspired, doomy retro sound, Portrait have taken the path of pure occult heavy metal with a bit less of Mercyful Fate (still very present, though), yet with a really extreme and dark edge. In fact, this album is one of the most intense heavy metal recordings that I've heard in a long time. It's fast, it sounds superb (Necromorbus Studios this time), it's heavy, and it's really dark. Songs as "Beast of Fire", "Bloodbath", and "The Passion" barely leave you any time for rest with their unrelenting heavy metal attack. In fact, sometimes it sounds so heavy that it even reminds me of a remote music genre of black/death metal. I know that the relation is not very logical, but together with some dark melodies, the speed of some songs, and the sound achieved in Necromorbus, this make me think of bands like Dissection (for example, the beginning of "The Nightcomers" reminds me of some things in "The Somberlain"). Don't be frightened by this opinion because it's just that, a very personal appreciation, and these guys are a straightforward heavy metal band, but a really intense and dark one. I also want to praise Per Karlsson's job on vocals, which is a definitive improvement from, maybe, the only weak aspect on the band's debut. This must be one of the best heavy metal releases of 2011, so you better not lose the opportunity to check them out.
Originally written for Ample Destruction 'zine.
Portrait is the 'other' Swedish band to ride the King Diamond, Mercyful Fate coattails into a deal with Metal Blade, but they've got a slightly different focus than their countrymen In Solitude. Nostalgia is still a major factor in the songwriting, and yet Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae bears a lot more in common with the King's earlier solo albums like Fatal Portrait and Abigail than, say, Don't Break the Oath or In the Shadows. However, there are a few points upon this album in which the music reflects a broader worship of 80s era Combat and Metal Blade speed/heavy metal recordings circa Leatherwolf, Abattoir, Exciter, Obsession, etc, and the seasoned balance of dirty rhythms and blazing, often elegant leads and melodies makes for an exciting listen experienced despite the obvious derivation.
Per Lengstedt handles the vocal duties here, and the man is no stranger to savage Swedish speed metal aesthetics, having also fronted Overdrive. His delivery is a mix of gritty, mid range acid redolent of US bands like Armored Saint and Lääz Rockit in their early to mid 80s heyday, and straight up Kim Petersen shrieking, though it takes a few songs before either of the styles wins out. For example, apart from a few shrill lines and the La Rocque-like guitars in opener "Beast of Fire", one can't draw the direct connection; while "Infinite Descension" might have been right at home on either Don't Breath the Oath or Fatal Portrait, Lengstedt aping both the King's trademark cries and his mid-range (which In Solitude sticks to almost exclusively), and a good chunk of the ensuing record then continues to follow in that unhinged, noisy and haunting pattern, though lyrically these guys dwell more on occult and mythological fixtures than any coherent narrative.
The similarities don't end in the vocals, of course, and the guitars definitely have a bit of that breakneck intensity and solid melodic glaze that was so prominent in the Danish monarch's output through the 80s. Tracks like "Bloodbath" and "The Nightcomers" kick some serious ass with a slew of dynamic and memorable riffs whose tones breed true to the production of the albums that clearly inspired them, and the finale "Der Todesking" is a 9+ minute beast which ranges from stringy spikes of melody to raging mid-paced fist shaking to even a tranquil bridge breakdown which is the equivalent of stumbling across some calm amidst a hurricane. There's also a quite nice instrumental here, "The Wilderness Beyond" in which I was mildly, delightfully reminded yet again of King Diamond (in this case, "Insanity" from The Eye). Overall, I don't think there's a single song on Crimen Laesae which fails to adhere to a sleek, blissful miasma.
That said, it's not entirely perfect. Some of the shrieking gets on the nerves after awhile, since it's more loud and copious in the mix, and thus headaches are certainly possible. There's also the fact that, whenever Per is wailing his lungs and pipes to the limit, it's hard not to think that the apple is falling a bit too close to the tree of its creative forebear. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I get that, but I'd be pretty curious to pick the King's brain over this. In addition, while the album is fun enough to sit through, I wouldn't call most of its individual riffs exactly 'memorable'. The raw, 80s compositional elements and structural variation keep it interesting once in the mood, but there are very few chorus parts or melodies that resonate long after the album ends. I liked it more than In Solitude's sophomore, but it's not nearly at the level of a Them, Melissa, or Abigail, and how could it be?
If you could imagine Mercyful Fate’s early music with the vocals reminiscent of King Diamond on the lower register you’d have the perfect picture of Portrait (no puns intended). This is one of the more exciting bands to come around the metal movement in some time. Hailing from Sweden, Portrait exercises and extends its might and muscle accordingly in its second go-round titled Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae, which is quite the journey into a dark and empty chasm of evil.
While not as blatant or emphatic about the satanic side of life as the Danish counterparts, Portrait conveys a particular sense of reserved educating when it comes to the topical reverence with which they operate. As opposed to being too over-the-top or egregious, the band manages a typically early traditional feel that does wonders for the medium in this chosen fashion. While a million bands try, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to tap into the Venoms, Slayers and Bathorys of the world, very few even attempt Mercyful Fate and even less than that achieve any sort of validity in doing so. The only band rivaled as an equal and even worth mentioning in this vein is In Solitude, also from Sweden. Between these two bands the die is cast for a future in traditional evil metal music.
To the credit of Portrait they manage to channel the forces of early Fate but also keep true to their original ideas, and they have those in abundance. “Bloodbath” travels at a constricting light speed with some of the better guitar riffs I’ve heard from the traditional medium. What attracts me as well is the vocal melody that doesn’t stagnate into one pattern throughout each track and allows the music to let it carry the voice through the ears in direct opposition to over or under, which in this case would stultify it. The absolute perfection of the riffs and arrangements in these songs is amazing and lends credence to the assumption that this traditional style is still viable and wholly acceptable b the fickle masses. With a sharp production and massive attention to both the early 80’s sound and modernized ‘fullness’, Crimen… really drives home the new arrival of that wonderful traditionally evil metal that needs no pomp and circumstance to further its hallowed agenda.
The undeniable comparison to King Diamond is here throughout, and while Per Lengstedt doesn’t exactly pilfer Diamond’s legendary high-pitched falsetto he does enable a new generation to find total and subservient reverence in his delivery. In fact, and this might be sacrilege to say, I prefer this polished style that has a more lush tonal quality than the straight-shot one-dimensional effort King always gave. Hey, I go back with Mercyful Fate 28-years now and I love KD, so imagine how difficult it must be for me to say this. However, I’d rather pass the torch than see the style fade into eventual obscurity. Besides, Lengstedt has an almost Eric Adams feel to some of his higher registered vocalization, so the balance is certainly there, especially evident and honed to needle-point perfection in “The Nightcomers”, where the very core brilliance of Portrait shines through like a blacklight bulb.
This is a brilliant album from beginning to end, embracing and elevating all of the best elements of past glories and future accolades in one sitting. Metal Blade made a fine choice releasing this small piece of my past and a hungry current generation’s future.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
Mercyful Fate is the greatest metal band, ever. Melissa and Don't Break the Oath are easily on par with Vol. 4 and Master of Puppets. Shermann and Denner have the most distinctive (and excellent) double-guitar riffing in the genre, and I recently named King Diamond as the greatest metal vocalist of all time. I defy you to find any issue of Decibel or Terrorizer that doesn't mention the glorious MF or KD. Try to argue with me, and you will come up with only four or five other bands that could possibly claim the title: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and maybe Celtic Frost. But each and every one of those bands has bad albums to their name. Not so for the great Danes.
Two bands have recently been recommended as Mercyful Fate sound-alikes: In Solitude and Portrait. They have quite a bit in common with each other besides that comparison. Both are from Sweden. Both are on Metal Blade. Both released their debut albums in 2008. And both released their sophomore albums (with verbose titles) this May.
Portrait's frontman doesn't wear face paint, but they proudly proclaim their love for King Diamond. And they absolutely sound the part.
Vocalist Per Karlsson doesn't have a voice that naturally sounds like King Diamond, and his phrasing isn't quite spot-on. But the "praise Satan" lyrics and penchant for hitting a frightening falsetto are there in spades. Even without the natural ability, he properly evokes the King mood. That's the key.
Many of these riffs and leads could have been pulled from Fate songs. Album highlight "Bloodbath" is the perfect example, as it includes the "Desecration of Souls" lead at 0:30 and loads of Fate riffs. In fact, every song down to the instrumental "The Wilderness Beyond" sound like Mercyful Fate songs. And they're good ones. Plus, they know how to write a 9 minute song that works. Their only misstep along the way is an overlong acoustic outro on "Darkness Forever", but that's a small price to pay to hear this fantastic album.
The Verdict: Portrait really does sound like Mercyful Fate, and they do an excellent job of it--the first band to pull it off since MF and KD themselves.
adapted from an article on Full Metal Attorney comparing and contrasting to In Solitude's The World. The Flesh. The Devil.
Portraits self titled debut album was a solid piece of Mercyful Fate inspired, dark sounding and dark themed Heavy Metal. Alongside fellow countrymen In Solitude, RAM and the long-standing Wolf, the band have been flying the flag for the darker side to the sub-genre among the more popular acts of the current crop of ‘revival’ bands like White Wizzard or Enforcer.
With their signing to heavyweight label Metal Blade and a change in vocalist from their first album, have the band changed in the three years since the last album?
The answer is a mixed yes and no.
Firstly, the Mercyful Fate influence is still in play here, although not as heavily as the debut album. New vocalist Per Karlsson has a sound more his own, unlike previous vocalist Phillip Svennefelt who’s King Diamond impersonation was quite uncanny. Karlsson has a more traditional sound to his voice , utilizing a more powerful sounding regular singing and falsettos alongside the King Diamond styled vocals, giving more variety to the vocals as was seen on the previous album, a definite improvement in originality for the band.
Alongside the change in vocal style, the songs have had their own evolution from pure Mercyful Fate worship. While the influence is undoubtedly there, there are moments closer to speed metal such as the high speed opening track Beast of Fire. The songwriting, while still keeping a dark sound and feel, has also shifted from Mercyful Fate worship to also taking influence from the whole spectrum of Heavy Metal.
There has also been a definite improvement in the production of the album in comparison with the debut, sounding much thicker and with all instruments becoming audible over the thin and amateur production of the debut album. The improvement is another good turn, while sounding cleaner and more professional it still keeps the old-school edge to the sound, rather than going the route of ultra clean and sterile production plaguing releases by other bands of the genre.
The songs themselves are incredibly catchy and well written pieces of Heavy Metal. A variety of tempos are present from the high speed opener and The Nightcomers to more mid paced songs such as Darkness Forever, even adding in an interlude track to build up the atmosphere through the album in the form of the third track The Wilderness Beyond containing acoustic melodies and restrained leads, acting as an intro before the destruction of Bloodbath and its high speed riffing, guitar harmonies and drums – a classic Heavy Metal song in every way and one of the albums many highlights.
Overall, while the album is not doing anything entirely new to the genre, the band has achieved everything it sets out to do here – make a brilliant Heavy Metal album that both takes obvious influence in style from their idols while also adding their own songwriting style into the mix. The album is the perfect length and no song overstays its welcome, staying interesting by hooking the listener with brilliant riffs and guitar harmonies alongside shout along vocal passages.
A massive step up from their debut and a stand-out album among many other revival acts releases.
Originally posted on:
I don't know if there's something wrong with me or what, but every now and then I circle into this famished hunger for traditional metal in the vein of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. I found "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" and have been absorbed by Portrait's striking form of this Satanic, diabolical heavy metal which honors the classic Mercyful Fate and King Diamond offerings, almost to a tee. The guitar work closely mirrors the riffs and solos of the Hank Shermann/Michael Denner duo, courtesy of Portrait's Swedish shredders, and that's not to go without mentioning the rich range of Per Karlsson's sinister vocals, again coming into contact with high-flying falsettos and reaping vocals that vibrate the darkest corners of music's netherworld.
Modern touches are quite prevalent inside the clear and crisp production, which strongly contradicts the raw, devilish sound found on the group's impure debut. It's nothing to complain about though; the record has a fantastic mix, emphasizing items both raw and polished for Portrait's benefit. The songs are generally long excluding the instrumental "The Wilderness Beyond," lasting from five minutes to the nine-minute journey featured throughout the carnival of riffs and creepy interludes of "Der Todesking." Portrait is, however, very tame in this execution; they diligently express rows and columns of riffs that are given comprehensive repetitions per riffing cycle. The tracks are often structured in various parts as well, and it's clear Portrait has a lot of things to say within their musical scriptures, but the band gets it done without seeming pretentious or bloated.
But structuring details and production are secondary to the overall picture: Portrait's power comes from the material within, which is truly dark and very excellent. As I said, the record appeals to Mercyful Fate/King Diamond more than anything else. Karlsson's voice soars like a bat in the moonlight, showing a lower register than King Diamond, yet he still belts out the occasional falsetto and sounds darker than a land of shadows. Portrait recurrently cranks out firing speed metal riffs, but typically they wallow in mid-paced metal covered in signature licks that pay honest tribute to the guitar work of Shermann and Denner; the Mercyful Fate image immediately clicks into place. Many of the riffs and ideas they use are incredibly enjoyable, leaving the record to emerge as its own entity and not look like a second-rate tribute album.
I suppose it's some form of an oddity to actually see a band like Portrait release this kind of traditional metal, or being more in touch with Mercyful Fate than, say, the Judas Priests and Iron Maidens. This album is nevertheless a stellar slab of grim, blackened heavy metal that licks the slime off the rotting corpse of Mercyful Fate, and you'll be thrashing away the moment the howling solo which starts "Beast of Fire" sweeps you off your feet and brings you to a devilish land of heavy metal ecstasy. It's fresh and fun, and "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" proves some folks know the oath by heart, and vow to never break it.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com