Portrait – Crossroads (Metal Blade)

Thursday, 24th April 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Not immune to the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate influence corralling that has also snapped up Ghost, In Solitude, and Noctum, Sweden’s Portrait look to firm up their end of the ultra-traditional/occult spectrum via Crossroads, their third album. The band’s 2011 Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae was an effort of understated value, unfortunately side-swiped by some of the groups mentioned above, but it served notice that there was more to be plucked from the NWOBHM vaults that initially suspected. Fittingly, Crossroads stays the course.

On the surface, Portrait’s sound has more combustion to it than In Solitude, who have effectively toned down the meatier metal portions for dark, mystic offerings. So where In Solitude frolics in the graveyard, Portrait is perhaps more apt to knock a few tombstones over with their more upfront and complex offerings. The byzantine leads of “We Were Not Alone” certainly supplant than notion, with an array of Euro-honed melodies and dug-in gallops. The hi-hat groove of “Black Easter” will instantly pull in “Gypsy” comparisons based on its imitable drum patterns, but the song gradually develops into a fully-blossomed number, and probably the album’s most noteworthy cut.

The occasional banshee wail from Per Lengstedt is the most obvious straight line to The Great Dane, but, the vocalist is oddly mixed too close to the guitars. A lot of his vocals don’t have much of an impact; they’re shadow figures, sometimes even difficult to discern, which probably has a lot to do with the noticeable lack of creative vocal hooks. Lengstedt still manages to pull a few high-wire moments out, specifically on “Our Roads Must Never Cross,” however, he resembles that of a bit player when he should be front and center.

Based on Portrait’s overall presentation and dodgy songwriting dynamics, they have not improved upon Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae, which is a mild bummer. Crimen…was rife was calculated melodies and spooky vocal excursions; Crossroads feels slapped together and never quite takes off. But, it will help them create space from the bands they’ve been so frequently compared to…

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