PORTRAIT – The Host (Album Review)

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The sacramental cup runs over.

Imitation may well be the greatest form of variety, but it can also be a sure way for an idea to run its course prematurely. Without some degree of stylistic innovation, heavy metal would wither and die, yet there is a fine line between taking things a step further and wandering clear off the map. This is particularly a delicate issue in the case of keeping the theatricality and vintage metallic darkness associated with Danish metal icons Mercyful Fate and their frontman King Diamond’s solo project alive in the face of more than 15 years of studio silence.

Curiously enough, many would-be disciple projects have sprung up within the same frame that the latter had put out his, to date, final studio LP “Give Me Your Soul…Please,” with such acts as Germany’s Attic, the U.S.’s Them, and Sweden’s now defunct In Solitude providing interesting continuations of the style in question, spanning numerous albums of high caliber. Yet the peculiar case of another Swedish outfit dubbed Portrait stands apart from the crowd, functioning less as a tribute-based continuation and more of a logical evolutionary step forward within a NWOTHM context, especially when considering their most recent studio LP “The Host.”

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this outfit’s take on continuing the magic originally captured by the aforementioned kings of Danish metal is a stronger lyrical and aesthetic affinity for the occult-obsessed early output of Mercyful Fate, while still maintaining a noticeable element of the more elaborate musical presentation that developed through King Diamond’s first five albums. Right from the visual of the heads of Jesus and Baphomet just barely above a sea of blood on the album’s cover art, this album’s affinity with the dark side couldn’t be any more office, and the massive musical display that lies in store could be likened to a seamless amalgam of “Don’t Break The Oath” and “Abigail.”

Yet while the atmospheric quality of the instrumentation listens along the lines of what a late 80s heavy album would sound like with the advances of a 2024 recording studio, lead vocalist Per Lengstedt’s voice would never be mistaken for that of King Diamond’s. It’s a voice that perfectly emulates the haunting, ghostly character that goes with the style, but his timbre comes closer to what Bruce Dickinson sounded like circa 1983, especially when his forceful non-falsetto high range comes into the picture.

“The Host” Album Artwork

As the sixth studio LP in this band’s career thus far, as well as the first to feature new second guitarist Karl Gustafsson, “The Host” stands as the longest and most involved effort to date, yet also sees the refinement and improvement of the longer form opus that was 2021’s “At One With None.” Each song functions as an epic slough through numerous twists and turns, often blurring the lines between an old-school, rock-based heavy metal swagger, and a jarringly fast and furious blend of power, speed, and thrash metal elements.

Drummer Anders Persson really outdoes himself at numerous points; with high octane, double-kick happy cruisers like the neck-destroying thrasher “The Blood Covenant”, the driving power anthem “Dweller Of The Threshold”, and the speed-infused thrill ride “Sound The Horn” occasionally flirting with the extreme territory. For their part, the duo of Christian Lindell and the aforementioned Gustafsson cut heads with the same level of intrigue as LaRocque and Denner back in the “Fatal Portrait” days every time a solo section emerges, while the signature riff work of involved journeys through metallic darkness like “Oneiric Visions” and the almost blackened crusher “Treachery” manages to throw every possible stylistic permutation between Judas Priest to Venom at the listener without sacrificing even an iota of coherence.

Insofar as albums residing within the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, “The Host” is among the most technically and formally ambitious offerings to come to light. Though there are definitely isolated entries like the previously mentioned “Dweller Of The Threshold” and the similarly infectious but more mid-paced heavy metal romp “Die In My Heart” that could function as radio singles, the lion’s share of this album is an exercise in complexity that may prove challenging for even the most rabid of progressive metal fanboys to fully grasp in a single listen.

This is underscored by the massive 11-minute epic “The Passions Of Sophia”, the longest song in this band’s career thus far, not to mention an absolutely master class in how to splice melancholy balladry and varying levels of metallic fervor into a single song and have it all make sense. Conceptual works are often noteworthy for their ability to paint vivid pictures and set them in motion, but this LP takes the idea to its logical conclusion, from the creepy ambient synthesizer and piano-steeped introduction “Hoc Est Corpus Meum” to the mad-thrashing mayhem of “Sword Of Reason”.

“The Host” is an album that takes time to fully grasp, but for those with hours to spare, it’s sure to pay massive dividends in the years to come and codify Portrait as one of the major players in Europe’s booming traditional metal scene.

Released By: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: June 21st, 2024
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Per Lengstedt / Vocals
  • Christian Lindell / Guitar
  • Karl Gustafsson / Guitar
  • Fredrik Petersson / Bass
  • Anders Persson / Drums

The Host” Track List:

  1. Hoc Est Corpus Meum (Intro)
  2. The Blood Covenant
  3. The Sacrament
  4. Oneiric Visions
  5. One Last Kiss
  6. Treachery
  7. Sound the Horn
  8. Dweller of the Threshold
  9. Die in My Heart
  10. Voice of the Outsider
  11. From the Urn
  12. The Men of Renown
  13. Sword of Reason (The Steel of Revenge)
  14. The Passions of Sophia

Order The HostHERE

9.0 Excellent

Continuing their part in carrying on the legacy of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, Swedish old school metal stalwarts Portrait unveil a titanic fit of conceptual storytelling from the dark side in The Host that dwarfs all of their prior studio offerings in terms of scope and vividness

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5
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