(Here’s Wil Cifer‘s review of Texan outfit Portrayal of Guilt‘s new album, which is out now via via Run For Cover Records.)
Uncompromising and confrontational are two words that should be used when describing artists who use heavy music as their medium. You read that right. An artist, not a band. The best-case scenario is a band of artists, but when you are talking about a project that takes the kind of sonic risks Portrayal of Guilt does, the conversation turns to an art form.
These Texans do not play by the rules of heavy music, nor do they care. They make cathartic darkness, which is why they are one of my favorite new heavy vehicles of chaos for my ears. Their new album conforms when they feel like it. They used atmosphere and jarring dissonance to paint hellish portraits of inner pain externalized.
They take their tools of torture in the first few songs and come up with some solid grooves that could have come from a ’90s metal band. In these moments they shed the black metal menace, along with the explosive tendencies of grind-core. They summon an abundance of chaos that still makes for effective songwriting. Their drummer consumes the spotlight as he attacks the riffs. The guitars perhaps make themselves most known in their absence.
You see, this album consists of five songs. They are first framed in the kind of lovely repugnance they normally drape their compositions in. Then they take these same five songs and discard the guitars, replacing them with a string section.
It was when I went back to compare the metal versions of the orchestral rearrangements that I noticed the varied tones the guitars churn out on the original five pieces. The vocals are largely unchanged when the songs are reframed. They stay at a scornful rasp. When the stormy buzz of guitar is removed, the vocals sit closer to center stage in the mix. For most bands who bang out music this heavy vocals are often an afterthought. The stripped-down string mix proves how the vocals are a vital color to the bigger picture being created here.
The original takes of the songs are impressive. Though I do not classify these guys as a black metal band they are clearly influenced by it. The blast beats employed are exceptions to rules they do not follow in the first place. The title track finds things delving even further into darkness. The percussion crunches with more of an industrial feel, before blasting off into a cosmic abyss.
The lyrics are spit out in a manner that makes the words more articulated. I began paying attention to them, as he exclaimed he wanted to watch you suffer and feel your pain. I found the ugly honesty quite beautiful. Then I hunted the lyrics down on their Bandcamp and they painted another picture, one that seemed to use BDSM as a metaphor. The deeper meaning could be a toxic relationship, dynamic, or the devil presented from another perspective. Either way they hint at artists who are embracing their inner darkness.
When the first song replaced the guitars with strings the results were something much darker. If pressed as to which version is most effective, I would say it depends on the song. On “Untitled” the results are that the unnerving dissonance becomes a more chilling sensation in the string rendition. This reminds me a little of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The spoken vocals that were buried in “Burning Hand’ come more to the forefront. When “Where Angels Come to Die ” is stripped of the black metal sounds, the scowl of the vocals gains renewed hatred in their intentions. The only time I feel this is less effective is on the title track, where the guitars originally pounded the point of the lyrics home with more conviction.
I might wish for five more originals rather than an experiment in chamber music, but this bold artistic statement accomplishes what they set out to do and hopefully means they have another full-length waiting in the wings. This album will make you question what heavy means, and reflect on how to get there. This might be a sinister piece of art, but it is also songs that are worth listening to repeatedly, as they embrace the shadowy corners of the soul the way heavy music should. Fans of Portrayal of Guilt will be pleased with the direction things head here.