Raise the Black - PortraitThese days, the album bin’s like a box of chocolates: most morsels are halfway decent, except the random orange-flavored ones. Despite a name suggesting a jaunt on the Seven Seas and a promo sheet whispering sweet nothings of Insomnium, Agalloch, and Woods of Ypres, Raise the Black’s debut, Portrait, has the pinkish taste of despair to it. Their not-so-original take on the melodic death-doom fusion first proffered by Katatonia some 20-odd years ago immediately forces the band to escape the shadow of those Swedes’ quintessential debut. Dance of December Souls, Portrait is surely not, but can Raise the Black spruce up a classic for modern times?

Opener “Confined” immediately hits you with both doom barrels loaded. Fuzzy on the outside and somber on the inside, the way the Brits unfurl their guitar-work immediately draws a comparison to the melodic sorrow from Katatonia’s early years. That influence immediately appears an introspective, distortion-free bridge, the stark contrast against the previously overwhelming fuzz further depressing the mood. Alone, the guitars suffice, though their thick tones hinder the intended atmosphere. But as our anonymous vocalist’s throaty growls kick in, the wheels don’t just come off the bus, Wile E. Coyote jumps in the driver’s seat and chases the Roadrunner off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Abominable and raw, their amateurish nature is glaringly unsuited for the proceedings. Furthermore, the mix is 100% non Swanö. Portrait often sounds atrocious, prominently clipped and more static-laden than any album I’ve reviewed. The attention vacuum of poor growling only compounds this issue. Perhaps this explains the relative success of the in-between moments, as only the gentle portions of the spin leave space enough to gauze my hemorrhaging ears.

Portrait retains doom’s focus on riff-centricity, though it walks both sides of the line between “boring” and “simplicity.” Their handling of melody at times teases an interwoven reliance similar to Insomnium. However, Raise the Black never recapture the memorable high-water marks of the Finns, especially with vocal and instrumental accompaniment that provide no sustenance. Indeed, none of their stated influences truly make an appearance in Portrait’s one-note direction. Katatonia relied on compelling melodies and inspired Gothic accouterments – not to mention quality writing and vocals – for their oozing depression to resonate upon; Raise the Black’s garage stoner fuzz muddles their attempts at solemnity, straying closer to a garage stoner band. Their dinner-scrap riffs settle around average quality, but never captivate, rarely develop, and, in the case of “Hope Abandoned,” occasionally reek of tone deafness. They cannot shoulder the load of an album devoid of stellar performances and deficient in so many other areas.

As such, I am not surprised that so many poor and strange choices made it onto the album. Time signature tickles on “A Portrait of Solitude” precurse a quaint solo, but the song jars to a complete stop before returning the bland, do-nothing riffs that characterize the album. When the record throttles up, like the close to “Exiguous” or the black metal open to “Hope Abandoned,” it catches your ear, if only because there’s finally something there to catch. The latter’s momentum lasts a mere fifteen seconds, baited and switched with an uncomfortable chug-laden crawl that has me re-upping my espresso and ear plugs order from Amazon. Instrumental closer “Echoes of a Flame Extinguished” provides a peek at Raise the Black’s potential, based around successful Agallochian undercurrents offering increased complexity and respite from the distracting tones. Though the central riff on the track meanders back to the album’s standard mediocrity, a back-half diversion into early In Flames melodeath based around it earns big thumbs up. It’s the only such instance on the album.

Try as I might, I find it impossible to listen to Portrait without thinking of — and eventually listening to — Dance of December Souls. Even worse, Portrait’s 2017 192 kbps output looks like dog food side-by-side with my 1993 160 kbps copy of Dance. Raise the Black suffer for their inability to write convincing music and their insistence on mimicking a band known for precisely the opposite. In that context, Portrait does not and could never succeed.


Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: raisetheblack.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/RaiseTheBlackOFFICIAL
Releases Worldwide: February 17th, 2017

 

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  • Do you really expect me to read this review given that glorious piece of artwork sitting in the middle of it? Be realistic now. :-)

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      Plus the fact he used a numerical score so I didn’t even have to begin reading!

    • sir_c

      But… that’s Murphy’s law!

  • Reese Burns

    I couldn’t even get through the embedded song, can’t imagine having to listen to the whole album front-to-back multiple times. You’re a brave man.

  • Eldritch Elitist

    The music isn’t outright terrible, but man, the production just makes this uncomfortable to listen to. I wouldn’t buy this for a dollar.

    • GardensTale

      And that ‘growl’. *shudder*

      • Eldritch Elitist

        It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t sound like it was recorded using an Xbox 360 headset.

    • Norfair Legend

      Very much so, the drums sound like he’s just slapping a bucket and the guitar sounds like a fan that doesn’t sit right on the table, just vibrating away.

  • When spinning the Wheel of Promos, one must be prepared to lose everything.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    Great review! I too have a heard time with this stuff without, at some point, saying “fuck it – where are my Katatonia/October Tide records”.

  • GardensTale

    Jesus Christ diving naked into a rainbow river this is bad. That growl sounds like a 12 year old kid doing his ‘angry voice’. And this low-fi shite production…. I do NOT envy you for going through this multiple times mate. That unicorn is the only good thing that came out of this album.

  • Maximos662

    The production is awful, and the riff is the sonic embodiment of indifference or ennui. Ergo, I stopped giving a shit about that song about halfway through, apparently sparing myself a terrible attempt at growling. Everything about this screams, “I don’t care about what I’m doing”, so why should I?

  • Eli Valcik

    The unicorn pic is a work of art, I need a copy to hang in my living room.

  • DrewMusic

    Everything that reeks of poorly executed Katatonia mimicry needs to be destroyed, erased (and thusly improved – had to) and never spoken of again. The Norrman brothers could do no wrong back in the day, the haunting melodies of the brave Katatonia of yester days (BOOM) were so perfectly executed on the early albums, I often wish I could find more but everything else just sucks, it just sucks so bad and I hate it.
    That unicorn, though… that might just make this ok somehow.

  • IBlackened

    The drums, the production, the riffs, the vocals… can’t decide which is worse.

    • sir_c

      one of the rare cases where the whole is less than the sum of the parts

      • IBlackened

        More is less in this case.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Katatonia? Insomnium? Agalloch? In Flames? It’s merely February, and we already have the future album of the year!

  • Thatguy

    Maybe these guys are joking. On their Bandcamp page they say they are from ‘the forests of deepest darkest Nottingham.’ I’ve been to Nottingham – there is no forest, and it ain’t deep or dark.

  • sir_c

    The pink taste of despair… is that all what is left after 20 years of marriage?

  • The Nerd.

    Read first paragraph: Insomnium and Woods of Ypres! Count me in!!!!

    Listen to listed song; Yeah I don’t think so.

    • DrewMusic

      Said all of us.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Imagine how I felt when I saw that promo sheet. I was so fucking pumped.

      /cue the sound of air rapidly exiting a balloon

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Seems the only remarkably good thing about this is the unicorn. And the band didn’t do it.

  • I made a comment on the Deathless Legacy review recently, stating that the score was too low. Well this one’s too high. This is the sort of stuff the super low scores should be reserved for. This could easily be a 0.5. It’s possibly the worst thing reviewed all year.

    The Deathless Legacy album is a 5.0 if you are using this music as a benchmark. Having listened to a few more tracks off the Deathless Legacy album just now, that review was completely unfair. This one is not.

  • Grymm

    This is sad. Not in the terms of beautiful melancholy, but rather this is “junior high school band during a talent show” horrific.

  • Wilhelm

    1.5 is generous, this is not good. Given the genre of the music, it could pass if it were recorded/produced/mastered well and more attention given on atmosphere, timing, and added stuff (keys, another guitar?) This isn’t Burzum, Drudkh, and certainly should not be compared to Dance of December Souls in any form.

  • drug_genosh

    I don’t want to beat a band when theyre down, but this is pretty atrocious. Reminds me of my highschool band’s first recording…but that was more than 15 years ago on a 4 track and I’d be too embarrassed to show anyone, let alone send out promos…..