OK, no stories this time. I don’t want to cause anyone to walk away from an album they might actually enjoy. Instead, I’ll just be blunt and boring. I’ll compress reviews into simple phrases like “album of the year” or “this isn’t brutal enough and you’re all pussies for liking it.” I guess 700 words is a waste of time for some and I should just force-feed shitty clickbaiting one-liners to you like a CNN ticker tape. I guess I could do that. Or… I could say fuck that and hammer out another lengthy piece proclaiming my love for King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. Yep, I think I’ll do that.
For the most part, Sweden’s Portrait is a product of their old-school Danish brethren. But, there does exist a touch of evolution in their twelve-year existence. After releasing two MF-loving records in 2008 and 2011—Melissa II (or Portrait) and Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae, respectively—the band stretched its wings a bit with the appropriately-titled Crossroads. The MF influences remained but hints of Dio and Judas Priest appeared in the vocals and songwriting. Which makes Crossroads one hell of a neat mish-mash of heavy metal styles. Crossroads wasn’t their strongest but, at least, it was original-ish.
But, the evolution is even greater on Burn the World, as it dumps in even more non-MF influences. But, don’t think for a second that all the MF influences are gone. Not by a long shot. Three of the songs, in particular, are dripping with old-fashioned King-y occultism. Starting with “Likfassna,” the band unleashes nifty riffs and a high-pitched chorus to support the creepy keys and emotion-tinged solos in its midsection. After “Likfassna,” “Flaming Blood” and “Mine to Reap” keep the energy up. Both are capable KD/MF imitators, with the first being almost a tribute piece. Especially with those opening and closing Mikkey Dee drum patterns and the classic ’80s guitar gallop. But, of these three tracks, “Mine to Reap” has a little more going on. And a lot more King. After spraying the chorus with some melody, we drift into an emotional interlude that mixes bass-led somberness with King-ish ooooo’s and aggressive gang shouts. Not original but it’s a good formula and one of the better songs on the disc.
But, the best tracks are those with surprising twists. And the back-half of the record has all the surprises. Perhaps my favorite of the album, “Martyrs” is one of the best the band has ever written. It unloads nearly eight minutes of hooking riffs, emotional choruses, and superb solo work. After opening with a soaring guitar lead, the King-like vocals arrive. But, this time, there exists almost Iced Earth-ish vocals for support. Using this approach, the song charges headlong into one of the strongest choruses in the band’s repertoire. After the gorgeous interlude around the 5:00 mark, the song gives way to “Further She Rode.” This two-minute piece is a beautiful acoustic instrumental that is right up there with the peaceful licks of LaRocque and the band’s own “Lily” (from Crossroads). “Pure of Heart” is an emotional rollercoaster that sees a little bit of everything. Its nine-minute length finds the band cross from Viking-era Bathory cleans and Iced Earth-ish vibes to a massive, passionate chorus. This song is addictive as hell and has more twists and turns than “Lily.”
Unfortunately, it takes a couple minutes for me to get the gist of the closer’s potential. While the opening moments are beautiful, the main riff does little to suck me in. This also goes for songs like “Burn the World” and “To Die For.” It’s not until the simple mid-song breakdown of the former that I take notice and “To Die For” is, perhaps, the most forgettable of the album. And while “Likfassna,” “Flaming Blood,” and “Mine to Reap” are a three-part ascension into the style of one of my favorite bands, it’s “Mine to Reap” that stands out the most. The others are just solid. Regardless, the biggest thing going for this album is its production. If you are going to go all this way, with a style as old as bubble wrap, it should sound just as old. Burn the World has some of the best warmth and breathability I’ve heard all year.
Everything taken into account, Burn the World is just as reliable as Crossroads. It’s got all the elements of MF plagiarism, without actually plagiarizing. It’s got hooking choruses, stellar riffs, great melodies, and engaging solo work. Unfortunately, it’s missing those hard-to-forget tracks and the bass presence of the first two albums. Just the same, this is fun and one I expect to spin as much as its predecessor.