Theatricality begets innovation.
Though now a phenomenon that has become ubiquitous throughout Europe and beyond, it could be argued that the ongoing revival of old school heavy metal dubbed the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal owes its birth to Scandinavia, and specifically Sweden. With such pivotal early entries into the scene such as Wolf and Enforcer, said nation could be rightly dubbed the homeland of heavy metal, and even among its earliest progeny there was a diversity of sound that essentially ran the gamut of every signature style that emerged during the 1980s. Holding up the more theatrical and dark side of the coin as embodied in the seminal offerings of Mercyful Fate stood Portrait, who unleashed a raging beast of a debut in 2008 that all but totally recaptured the magic of famed 1983 breakout album “Melissa,” to the point where soon after this fold of upstarts would find themselves under the banner of Metal Blade Records.
Over the years, in conjunction with a number of substantial shifts in lineup, this band has shown a strong penchant for growth and progression, all the while still maintaining their affinity for the theatricality of their adopted style. Particularly with the creation of their previous and fourth studio LP in 2017’s “Burn The World,” a more drawn out and epic approach to songwriting has emerged alongside a heavier and more modernized aesthetic to further separate this now four-piece outfit from the multiplicity of King Diamond-emulators, and 2021’s “At One With None” sees this evolutionary process continue. It can’t be stressed enough that this is still heavily based in the early to mid-80s sound that made Mercyful Fate a pivotal figure in metal’s development, but one can’t help but note a more nuanced and atmospheric game being afoot here that might cause one to draw parallels to the likes of Witherfall and Sanctuary circa “Into The Mirror Black.”
Perhaps the best way to sum up the way that this album unfolds would be as a compromise between an album that could have been written back in 1983 but ultimately wasn’t with something that might have emerged during the darker days of the mid-90s when traditional metal was in the proverbial wilderness but a bleaker, more progressive cousin was making some obvious waves. This is reflected in the mixed of vocal personas on display courtesy of front man Per Lengstedt, who often emulates the signature banshee wails pioneered by King Diamond, but takes equal occasions to explore a deeper vocal register that runs parallel to Warrel Dane’s early performances with Nevermore and a gritty mid-range howl that has more of an iconic 80s sense of drama rather than an operatic one. Combined with a wide array of musical expressions from riff happy and swift speed metal fodder to dreary balladry with plenty of hard-hitting groovy twists, it’s an experience that is as vivid it can get without morphing into overt progressive metal.
Drawing heavily from the themes of spirituality, philosophy and rebellion, Portrait paint with a broad brush both musically and lyrically, delivering up a collection of elaborate compositions that broaden the definition of heavy metal quite effectively. Punchy and highly accessible bangers such as the galloping anthem “Curtains (The Dumb Supper” and “Shadowless” veer the closest into being overt nods to the old days of metal traditionalism, yet take their time to develop instrumentally in between the melodic hooks sung by Lengstedt in a defiant tone. The speed machine “A Murder Of Crows” also hints at an overt nod to the days of “Melissa” and “Don’t Break The Oath”, though a busier riff set and some blasting drum segments deviate from the formula quite overtly. But where this album truly draws its strength and distinctiveness are on the longer-winded epic offerings such as the bleak and almost blackened landscape of “Ashen” and the dreary balladry turned pummeling metallic fury of closer “The Gallow’s Crossing”.
A common mistake that is made about the NWOTHM in general, and particularly with Portrait’s contribution to the metal scene at large is to only look at them as a throwback and retread of the past. Perhaps it doesn’t help matters that a multiplicity of bands such as Them, In Solitude and Attic have also borrowed extensively from the various eras of greatness achieved by King Diamond both during his time with Mercyful Fate and as a solo artist. But if there is an album that will easily dispel such notions, “At One With None” is such an album, as it adds at least as much to the style as it borrows from its forefathers. If there is any flaw to speak of in its delivery, it’s that it packs so many twists and turns into what is otherwise an only moderately long collection that it’s pretty easy to miss some things the first time through. It’s a welcome deviation from the norm, and a solid offering from an outfit that has clearly stepped into their own, but also one that fans of King Diamond who are impatient for a new album can sink their ghostly fangs into.
Released By: Metal Blade Records
Released On: September 3rd, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Per Lengstedt / Vocals
- Christian Lindell / Guitar
- Fredrik Petersson /Bass
- Anders Persson / Drums
“At One With None” Tracklisting:
- At One With None
- Curtains (The Dumb Supper)
- Phantom Fathomer
- He Who Stands
- A Murder Of Crows
- The Gallow’s Crossing
Swedish-born traditional heavy metal trustees and standard-bearers for the more theatrical side of the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal otherwise known as Portrait paint a vivid, distinct and more modernized landscape of sound on their fifth studio outing