Portrait – When None Becomes OneSunday, 22nd August 2021
Establishing themselves in a heavy metal world since 2006, Swedish act Portrait move valiantly into their fifth album At One with None. Consistently striving to add new textures to the heavy metal platform, you can expect songwriting that can be melodic and heavy while shifting tempos and atmosphere as necessary depending on the track at hand. Willing to take classic influences and add in textures of extreme and progressive music without abandoning the heart of their essence, it’s the excellence in pushing boundaries to create gold that keeps this act moving forward and gaining followers in the process.
We reached out to guitarist Christian Lindell once again on Skype, and he was happy to bring us into the world of this latest record. You’ll learn more about what Portrait wants to achieve with their music, thoughts on the dynamics of an ideal heavy metal record, the ties in cover art between their last two albums, and how the pandemic has helped Christian gain a bit more insight into the political framework and discussions that occur to divide people through social media.
Dead Rhetoric: At One with None is the fifth Portrait album – where do you see the major differences in terms of the songwriting, performances, production, or tones through this record compared to your previous discography?
Christian Lindell: I think we have succeeded in developing our own sound. We have stretched out further and still ended up within the Portrait core or essence. We have progressed and developed in a way when it comes to the catchiness of the music, and the big parts we have developed even further while still keeping the same approach within the music. When listening to this now, the new album may be a bit more melodic than the last album Burn the World was. But that is nothing we have been thinking too much about, before writing the songs. It’s nothing that we decide before we go into the writing process.
The only thing that we tend to think about is we want to stay true to our essence and develop (the songwriting) in a way so we don’t repeat ourselves. And I think that is something that we have succeeded with.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you consider that the biggest challenge at this point, not repeating yourselves based on what you have already produced and written?
Lindell: Not really a challenge, but I think it’s the most important thing. For our part we can go into many different directions still, still within the Portrait frame so to speak. We have quite a unique sound, being somewhat a new band. We have an original style that we can still stretch into many directions. I think doing something that one hasn’t already done before is very inspirational, you know. It also adds to the inspirational source. The challenge is to get everyone together to rehearse on the same weekends. We are very spread out in different places right now. We have three different rehearsal places now in three different towns (laughs). It’s more practical, the challenges we are facing.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering you had eleven songs initially developed, how did you go about making the specific decisions and choices to record the eight tracks that made the final cut (and the two bonus cuts for the special edition)?
Lindell: Actually, we recorded all of these eleven songs. At first we had a different song order for the album, which was only seven songs I think. And then, because basically the reason we didn’t include all of the songs was we wanted to keep it to one single vinyl LP, and not a double vinyl. It’s just out of personal taste. The perfect album length is between 45 to 50 minutes to me personally. That’s why we chose to not include all of the songs.
We just felt that we wanted the album to have as many forms of musical expressions as possible. We had for example the two tracks on the bonus edition – one is quite short and quite a fast track called “The Blood Is the Life”, while the other song is longer, epic, and a more mid-tempo song. Those two were the songs that we thought we could take away and add to its own little thing. The song titles of the two songs, it made sense to put together on one single, “The Blood Is the Life” and “Farewell to the Flesh”, it’s easy to draw comparisons and have almost a concept seven inch in the box set.
The song that wasn’t released, the eleventh song – we decided to not release it now. I wasn’t so sure about it, it’s a very long song, about ten minutes. I just felt that there was something that was not right about this, we will see if we will release it in some form later or change a couple of things in the arrangement before we release it. I want to give it some more time.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you also conscious of the song order when it comes to the dynamics for the record?
Lindell: Yes, that is very important. Definitely. This time we did it a bit differently, we always end albums with the longest track, the epic finishing track. We wanted to do it differently, we put the song named “Ashen” in the middle of the album, an opener of the b-side on vinyl. It could be a natural finisher. Instead we put a song called “The Gallow’s Crossing” as the final track. Which is a bit more up-tempo, catchy kind of song with a long intro. We need to build the drama of an album. It’s almost like a movie, where you divide it into three parts or acts almost to keep the dynamics as strong as possible throughout the album.
Dead Rhetoric: You weave many beautiful acoustic guitar textures to these songs – how do you decide as a songwriter where specific instruments will fit best to add the depth, atmosphere, and feeling you want to evoke? Is it on a push and pull, trial and error basis?
Lindell: No, it comes quite naturally. I think these acoustic things are always good to include to give things a bit more flesh or add a new dimension to it. It’s not possible to do this in every song. It wouldn’t make sense to have an acoustic part in “A Murder of Crows” which is a fast and aggressive track. We try to include it in ways that we feel fit. It has to be a natural approach, somehow when it is right to include. On the last album we used some synthesizers which Kevin Bower from Hell played. We didn’t do that for this album, we thought it worked well the last time but the songs this time had enough depth.
We want the albums to be as atmospheric as possible, but also on a level that the important things can be done live. That’s another aspect to it also.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the cover art this time around? Do you believe striking imagery and cover art has a place in today’s scene to set expectations for what the listeners can expect when they press play for the music – compared to the covers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s?
Lindell: About the cover art this time, we can see a figure walking away from something that looks quite empty. It symbolizes the free will of the individual to walk away from society and the illusions and lies of this world. If one looks at the back side there is also in the fold out cover, the devil or demon figure offering to this character a chalice of wisdom, serpents on the ground. This cover art connects to the previous album Burn the World as well. On that one you can see a figure with a crown and a blindfold, supposed to symbolize the blind god of creation, and there is a small character beneath him that is supposed to symbolize the rebellion against the worldly restrictions. One can say that person is the same person on the new album that walks away on the front. The same kind of rebellion shown in a different way.
It’s made by the same artist Adam Burke who made the Burn the World artwork. Artwork is a really important part of the album format as a whole. I myself have enjoyed buying a new album, listening to it and looking at the cover artwork, the lyrics, everything. That is something that we think is very important to keep up with. In many aspects, it’s good with all the digital solutions that are available, people can easily find your music, but we are also the kind of band that cherish the album format. We are not the band that could release a single song, once a month. We still want the album format and we still think it is relevant to do. We can present all forms of musical expression within the same context.
Dead Rhetoric: The band has always strived to establish your own sound and style – not an easy feat in a genre where it seems like everything may have already been done with a fifty-year history. Where do you see the key elements or trademarks that Portrait has worked hard on over the years to establish your own take and style within heavy metal?
Lindell: I think first and foremost we are active in a genre that is very friendly towards development. There are a lot of things that we can do while still keeping the same core or essence intact. It would be different if we were playing Florida style death metal or something. You can develop in different ways in other styles also. We can do some blast beat parts, some black metal stuff to our music without stretching it too far. The same goes for the older influences, progressive or 70’s stuff like King Crimson, while not still being too far out from our core. We can add acoustic elements, synthesizers, organs, all of this stuff. It would be harder to develop if we played extreme death metal or primitive black metal. You can do good albums and songs over and over, but there aren’t many possibilities to develop the sound further. If one listens to newer death metal or black metal bands, there hasn’t been much development that has happened since the mid 90’s. Which is 25 years ago. Even though our influences may be a bit older than that, I still think that our form of music is more development friendly so to speak.
It’s always been important to us personally. We started playing heavy metal in 2006. We take inspiration from other bands, but we started to play heavy metal in the 2000’s and we wanted to add something to the legacy of heavy metal. That is our major driving force I would say. It ends up being inspiration in itself.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you develop any new hobbies outside of your interests in reading, folk magic, religion, witchcraft, and the occult as well as your movie watching during this pandemic downtime?
Lindell: Not really. I guess I learned a bit more about how the world works on the political level. Both nationally and internationally. I have been reading a lot into the history of pandemics. It’s interesting to see the difference between the historical pandemics and how people were treated compared to this pandemic. How the authorities have been reacting differently over the world. It also has really shown how easy it is for the authorities to steal our rights to perform live. It can happen from one day to another. There can be reasons for it, it’s been interesting to see how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. I’m just hoping now that things will get back to normal and we will be able to do proper metal shows again for everyone.
I still have my same old interests that you mentioned, but that would be a bit new. Looking into what’s happening and going on in society on new levels. It hasn’t had an impact on our sound. It’s interesting and quite a frustrating situation that we find ourselves in.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the worldwide state of heavy metal currently? What excites you about the scene, and what improvements (if any) would you make if you had the time, means, and resources to do so?
Lindell: What we need now. We need to be prepared for further restrictions all over the world, and how we will approach these matters. There is a bigger need for a heavy metal underground movement, now than there has ever been before. The rebellious side of things needs to start showing itself. Because the situation we are in, it will divide us, and have a dividing effect. The authorities are forcing people to make up their minds about the vaccinations, the masks, and everything like that. I’ve seen myself how political ideas and ideologies can take away more important things like friends that don’t talk to each other because they have different political opinions while still being metalheads.
I remember ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, one could sit around and have different political views but still enjoy each other’s company because we had the music as the common point. Now all of a sudden, other things are more important to many people. It’s social media, so very easy to express your opinions and so easy to get blown out of proportion. I don’t know where I am going with this, but it’s really important that metalheads all over the world stay true and think things through. Consider what is most important in your life without being too busy with what the authorities want to discuss and debate.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is friendship and chemistry within the band? And how does the band handle the balance between regular jobs, music/touring, and the business end of things?
Lindell: It’s very important, the friendship part. It’s not like only the songwriting, recording, and fun stuff all the time. We have to go through a lot of challenges, and one can easily get on each other’s nerves. We need to have a relationship where it’s great with each other without anyone being too pissed off. We are very much on the same level when it comes to that. We have our fights of course, but we have a common goal and that is what matters.
We handle it or abandon it (laughs). There is not much choice. We have full time jobs and as long as we are inspired by what we do, there is no problem. We try to plan things long in advance so we can work out our personal level and so on. We will remain on that level, we aren’t expecting any Ghost boom like on the commercial side of things. We know who we are and where we come from, and that is what matters the most.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about the most when it comes to life over the past five years – and why?
Lindell: The last year or two years has really shown me how circus like national politics are. It’s just really, a masquerade that divides people. It has a lot to do with this pandemic situation. There are a lot of things I realize are going on, like a game to create discord between people. Which of course weakens the people. I am more aware of this now. I became a father five years ago also, and such things like how society works, I didn’t really need to know earlier. Those things are more important now. That is also of course another part of it all.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Portrait over the next year to support the new album?
Lindell: We hope to do as much touring as possible. It’s hard to decide right now with all the uncertainty in the world. We want to do some Swedish shows in the autumn, and hopefully do some touring abroad early next year. We will see about that.