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It's not about sounding like Mercyful Fate - 100%

enigmatech, March 23rd, 2013

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".