It was with great reluctance that I took Dark Portrait‘s A Harrowing Atrocity for review. It’s nothing against the band, but with the end of the year deadlines looming, TYMHM articles to write, and a top-ten list to hash out, there is little time for those unfortunate albums whose label thought it appropriate to release in the blackest month of the year. Even so, the promo sheet still contains a few more promos for December and some of these poor souls need a chance. Especially if they turn out to be incredible (like 2014’s Dawn of a 5th Era). Unfortunately, Greece’s Dark Portrait wasn’t chosen for their mind-blowing potential. Instead, it was my current mood that dictated the decision to review them. Having just come off the Devilment review, it seemed only fitting to snatch up this Cradle and Dimmu worship piece. But, is this debut worth putting off final-exam grading or will it turn out to be A Harrowing Atrocity of symphonic black/goth metal copycatting?
If you end up doing what I did and listen to “A Harrowing Atrocity” via the band’s Bandcamp page, your first impression may not be a good one. This song sounds so much like Dimmu Borgir that you’d think it was a Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia B-side. This similar lack of originality also stifles opener “Incantation for Lamia”—a song that feels ripped from the Cradle of Filth back-catalog. Not only are both cuts soaked in orchestral synths, chunky guitars, and Barker/Erlandsson drum work, even the vocals are similar. The former with its Shagrath rasps and barks and the latter with its Filthy staccato snarls and ear-piercing shrieks. You may not be going for your wallets right now, but it’s kind of impressive that there is another dude out there capable of shredding his vocal chords as only Dani Filth can. Even if, at times, it sounds a little too much like Filth.
Thankfully, A Harrowing Atrocity has more going on than these two songs. Like Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, this hour-long debut opens and closes with orchestral instrumentals; introducing and concluding the story as any good B-horror movie would. But, instead of sounding like a black-metal Danny Elfman, Dark Portrait‘s orchestral pieces have a troubling air to them that reeks of suspense. Opener “Her Awakening” also utilizes a thick layer of voices to set up “Incantation for Lamia.” Not surprising, these subtle choruses inhabit most of the record, but the highlight has to be Iliana Tsakiraki’s vocal leads on “The Rise of the Anti-Christ.” Her vocals add the right amount of variation to the pulverizing drums and add a melodic vengeance to the guitars.
With the bookends positioned and the general atmosphere of A Harrowing Atrocity set, tracks like “Cassandra’s Tragedy,” “Fiend Incarnate,” and “Ocean of Pain” arrive to secure the framing and rafters. All three inject a healthy dose of melody into the corner posts of the album. And, without them, there’s not much keeping this from having another cookie-cut symphonic black metal structure. Of the three, “Cassandra’s Tragedy” is the best. It has the right balance of Cradle‘s melodic catchiness, with a chorus that screams in agony. “Fiend Incarnate” is similar, but doesn’t quite have the better elements of “Cassandra’s Tragedy.” Still, the vocals are hooking and the midsection guitar leads and synths add a pleasant ambiance. Though the orchestral “Resurrection’s Rite” closes the album, “Ocean of Pain” concludes the disc with an energy and passion befitting the previous tracks. The sinister, bass-led intro and creepy, crawly vox, building to memorable keystrokes that clutch this coffin lid and seal it once and for all.
A Harrowing Atrocity may not be original, but it has a good vibe and even feels fresh at times. I doubt you will see songs like “Cassandra’s Tragedy” and “Ocean of Pain” on any year-end lists, but they’ve been haunting me all week. If you enjoy Dimmu and (especially) Cradle, Dark Portrait might be your thing. If you haven’t learned to appreciate either, A Harrowing Atrocity ain’t gonna to change your mind. If anything, this record ought to extend the Halloween season for those upset by the all the Christmas lights.