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Never Breaking the Oath - 89%

GuntherTheUndying, May 25th, 2011

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.

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