Portrait – At One with None Review

When I was a diesel mechanic, I was regularly married to certain trucks. If you did a PM on it, you were now the expert on the truck. If the jackass driver filled it with gasoline instead of diesel, and you were the one that dropped the tanks and flushed the system, it was yours forever. If the Jakes and cruise control stop working and you spend eight hours ripping the entire dash apart to rewire everything that fried, you were definitely married to that truck. And, when that truck rolled back into the yard, everyone went quiet. They all knew you’d be dropping everything and your day would be in or under that piece of shit. They were quiet because you hate that fucking truck and you threw your favorite wrench set across the shop to show how much you hate it. And, as I was married to Kenworth Karen, I’m married to anything related to King Diamond and Mercyful Fate here at AMG. But, just like that gravel spreader whose hydraulics stopped working on the job site, I know this is my fault. But, I have no regrets. For all the Karens out there, there are also plenty of satisfying jobs pulling into the bay. Specifically, the Attics, Candles, and Portraits.

There isn’t anything novel in the way these bands operate. But, I’m rarely disappointed with their output. Sweden’s Portrait has been around for a long time, trying to incorporate yet pull away from their Mercyful Fate copycat debut. What they’ve been able to achieve in their fifteen-plus-year existence is smoother productions, stronger vocals, and interesting meldings of King Diamind / Mercyful Fate and early-’90s Iced Earth. Twenty-seventeen’s Burn the World had one of my favorite masters of that year. It was smooth, old-school, and highly dynamic. But I’ll be frank with you, At One with None is nowhere near as dynamic as its predecessor. Like, not even close. Why they let anyone squash their master as badly as they did is beyond me. Thankfully the tunes are good enough to keep me from cringing at the brick-walled product.

The record’s compression is clear in a couple of my favorite songs on the album. The back-to-back “Curtains (The Dumb Supper)” and “Phantom Fathomer” lean heavily on Night of the Stormrider and Burnt Offerings-era Iced Earth. The result is great bass presence, killer gallops, and passionate vocals. Both have those choruses that are so pleasing that I feel my eyes closing and lungs filling with a deep breath of fresh air. But how much better would they sound with a DR10 master? On the back half of “Phantom Fathomer,” a melodic ascension takes place that reminds me of every Attic song ever written. The nine-minute “Ashen” takes these elements and bumps them up a notch. After opening with a very Andy LaRocque-like acoustic intro, the band combines King Diamond and Iced Earth with a satisfying result. Though the song is far too long, it does navigate through some interesting territories. Specifically, the short black metal bridge of blistering fast, sinister picking.

As a whole, the album is a somber journey. Every song but “A Murder of Crows” opens with a drawn-out build and keeps the melody going, especially on the front half of the record. But, before you know what’s coming next, the final three tracks throw you for a loop. Closer “The Gallow’s Crossing” opens like King Diamond‘s untouchable “Black Horsemen”—acoustic guitars and low vocals included. Then, it moves into Blind Guardian territory before settling into the sweeping guitar work Iron Maiden. I can say the same thing about its predecessor “Shadowless.” This song is nothing short of an old-school heavy metal track—fitting guitar leads, classic guitar dueling, and all.

In the end, the production has disappointed me a bit. Yet, I can’t stop listening to this album. I enjoyed Burn the World, but I haven’t returned to it as often as with this new album. Part of it is the mix on At One with None. Compression is one thing but I do like that they brought the vocals farther to the front. It’s a modernization that removes At One with None from sounding like their previous albums—which sound like ’80s Abigail reverb. Instead of being mysterious whisps in the background, the vocals are now a stronger instrument. If the production was better, I’m not sure what I would have scored this thing. Regardless, this is a truly pleasing slab of ’80s/’90s heavy metal.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: portraitsweden.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/portraitsweden
Releases Worldwide: September 3rd, 2021

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