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If you're looking for an appropriate and theme relevant soundtrack to playing video games such as Resident Evil, The Witcher or Dead Rising, look no further, as Swedish metal act Portrait will surely provide the score. From their vocalist who aptly fits the bill as a ghoulish orchestra conductor with his eerie and banshee like incantations to the macabre yet relentless talented musicians who plod along like undead minions, Portrait is definitely a contender their first time out.
That said, Portrait rushes the listener with the same speed as the zombies from 28 Days Later (as opposed to the slow, shuffling gait of those from the media referred to above). Essentially, all of their songs convey a sense of urgency to them, from the blast beats found on "Hell" to the shifting tempos and triplets of "A Thousand Nightmares", creating a dramatic, otherworldly effect. On “A Ghastly Silence”, the way the opening guitar riff repeats itself has me gripping the edge of my seat until it expands and goes off on a tangent, before the singer comes back to harangue you with his spell-binding voice. This is something Portrait pulls off quite well without sounding trite: they will play a riff right until the point you think you’ve had enough of it, then wham! They will add a few notes or change the final bar or two , and then expertly steer the song ‘s direction into something new and even more powerful whilst an esoteric yet cool sounding guitar solo will thread it’s way in somehow and then take over (the vocalist is never far behind here) until briefly reverting back to the first/main riff with an extra slick solo or two in tow. Hence, the insanity and mind bending effect of it all.
Another thing worthy of note, the guitarists, Christian Lindell and Richard Lagergren, really have a thing with trills, firing them off with reckless abandon on the main riff to "A Thousand Nightmares" as well as peppering many riffs and solos with them, without sounding redundant at all. They simply have a knack for making that particular trick fit in every time . As far as the lead playing goes, most of their guitar solos have a very European, classical feel to them but the first one on the opening track is almost comical with it’s bare bones, laid back approach which is highly in contrast with the rest of the song. Complimenting their riff mongering are also a couple beautiful acoustic passages, such as the intro to "The Village Of The Fallen Angel", as well as on the closing number, "The Adversary", which is paced slightly slower and a bit “doomier” than the other songs. Most times though, the drummer, Anders Persson, never lets up, adroitly slamming the crap out of his equipment while D. Slaughter on bass plucks away with such ardent fervor that they ultimately pave the way for an onslaught of truly catatonic, frenzied and elaborate metal madness.
One thing's for sure: I'm finding it hard to review this album because every time I hear it I discern different patterns & nuances...it goes to show how many dimensions there are to their music. If I were to haphazard a comparison, well, I guess the album's atmosphere is somewhat similar (though to a lesser degree) to the one conveyed on Iron Maiden’s first two LPs (i.e. the length of their songs and progressive song structures such as on “Phantom Of The Opera” ). The big difference here is their astounding level of maturity and masterful songwriting considering this is their first release. My take is that Maiden’s first album sounds like a hypothetical “Portrait Garage Days (they do have a demo, titled "Welcome To My Funeral"), while “Killers” comes closer to the initial comparison. For instance, when I first heard the bass line and dissonant harmonics thirty seconds into “Beware The Demons", I was immediately reminded of the actual song, "Killers".
Coming back to the vocals, never before have I heard a singer with a voice quite like his. Although he’s somewhat more coherent on their next release, Phillip Svennefelt may as well be singing in Swedish for all it’s worth. There’s no denying the lyrics are nil impossible to decipher anywhere on the album, despite the production’s professional level of quality. Thankfully, it’s the actual music that does the talking here. At the end of each song, I’m like “Whoa!”, and barely have time to catch my breath before immediately being pummeled and overtaken by the next one; there is not a single boring moment or musically lackluster bar on the entire album. To wit, their extreme innovation combined with the singer’s enigmatic vocals makes me feel giddy and want to punch them at the same time!
When all is said and done , Portrait’s self-titled debut may seem like an acquired taste at first, but any self-respecting metal fan should definitely take the time to scope these guys out. I highly recommend it along with their following album, "Crimen Laesae Majestasis Divinae", and the recently released, simpler named "Crossroads". So many fantastic traditional metal bands hail from Sweden, and though Portrait may not be as well known as Enforcer or RAM, it is one of my favorite bands these days, and I am always excited to meet people who have heard of them as well.