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Portrait's Christian Lindell: "Are we going to accept that live music will be exclusively for those who follow the authorities' political guidelines?"

Interview with Christian Lindell from Portrait
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 September 2021, 10:01 PM

What is one's truth against the many? Is the mainstream's dictation being in fact a kind of truth that has to be widely accepted by everyone? Of course not, even though there are those that think otherwise. Standing one's ground is crucial for the continuance of other opinions, diversity and needless to say a freedom of choice and thought way of life. The Swedish's dark Heavy Metallers, Portrait, proved that they stepped beyond the images of the past and into a creative area of striving to become unique. Following their new “At One With No One” album, Steinmetal had a good chat with guitarist Christian Lindell about the experience of the album and more…

Hello Christian, it is a pleasure of mine to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things going on your end?

Hello there. All is going well here. We have a new guitarist who will complete our line-up and we will so present him to the public. So, we are ready for live action!

Slowly, and patiently, I have been waiting for the next thing in line from Portrait, and here we are, sinking our teeth into the newly bred “At One With No One”. A little later we will discuss the philosophical side of the record, yet I would like to ask you, in relation to the album, how do you, as a person, stand as one against the pandemic going on? How have you been coping with it?

I have tried to follow what has been going on over the world and the different political strategies rolled out in connection with the virus. It is both very interesting and yet horrible to watch. I see a lot of smoke, so somewhere there is a fire, so to speak. Sweden seems to remove all restrictions by the end of September. We will see about that. It isn't over until the fat lady sings…

As a matter of responsibility, now with a somewhat slow opening of various cultural events, like the large-scale festivals that were held this summer, do you believe that now is the right time? As if to let people off with their chains and into a kind of reality that is perhaps uncertain?

It should have been done long ago in my personal opinion. There are vaccines for the risk groups and everyone else who wants it, at least in the parts of the world where most metal shows are likely to be held. The narrative presented by authorities and mainstream media is very one-sided, even though the level of draconianism of course differs when it comes to the restrictions in place.

I am not saying that it is all a scam because that is not what I believe, but there are so many strong interests involved, economical as well as political, on top of the medical side of things. Take the EU covid-passports for travelling for example, that were in place already in the beginning of the summer. These were supposedly for “safe and smooth” travel within the EU. But how “safe” was it really that everyone who had taken one single dose of vaccine could travel more easily? The introduction of the digital passport product was obviously more important than minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. There are more similar examples, and it is hard to say if some actions are taken out of pure malice or just ignorance and incompetence, but in any case, it is time to open wide the gates. Or else we will have to do it ourselves.

Standing one’s ground, even if being alone in the process, knowing a truth that no one really wishes to know, even if some folks know that it might be right. Let’s take it deep down, how do you stand this? Doesn’t it make you mad to be one with your own truth, where most people either disregard or disdain you?

I don’t believe there is only one truth either. Truth is always dependent on perspective. An atheist might claim that the spirit world doesn’t exist, while I would reason that it does, but the atheist is blind to it and does not have access to it for that reason. Within the atheist’s view of the world, he cannot experience it. So, does it exist? And for whom? Is it important to me that the atheist believes that it does? No, it is not. I trust my own experiences and don’t have any need to preach to someone who has a completely different view on such topics.

When it comes to the pandemic situation and the politics attached to it, I don’t claim to know the truth or have all the answers either. But like I said, I see a lot of smoke. The important thing is to contemplate and question the official narrative and not just take it for granted as truth.

In the early and mid-80s, surrounding Metal music, there has been a lot of talk of the rebellious nature of the Youth, especially the Metalheads’ community. In your view, do you believe that “At One With No One” is perhaps importing the similar state of mind towards Metalheads, as the ones with their own truth, as relevant nowadays?

Yes, more so now than for a long time actually. Sure, in the 80’s there was the PMRC and similar trolls who tried to shape things in a more convenient direction. In the 90’s mainstream media ignored metal to a large extent, but for the last 15-20 years metal has been widely “accepted” I would say, and we have been able to do our thing without too much interference from the outside.

But things changed in 2020 and now we are facing a very real threat – the loss of the freedom and power of experiencing and performing live music. Are we going to accept that live music will be exclusively for those who follow the authorities' political guidelines? How interesting would the history of cultural / musical expression be if it was reserved for the “regime friendly” only? Would heavy metal even exist?

The problem now is also that we might find ourselves in a situation in which bands as well as gig promoters really need to get going again to avoid financial nightmares, and thus want to accept just any conditions that the governments say are necessary to get started again. On the other side, we have people like myself and many with me, who are skeptical to various elements of the so-called “new normal”. There is a risk that these topics will divide the metal scene and the question is if anyone of us really wants that. Or is it perhaps for the best? I don’t know, but I believe it is important to at least address these issues.

Talking about “At One With No One” in general, what is that fine line that connects the songs in terms of theme, as if those were part of a journey in which the listener travels to while listening?

The general concept deals with the search for truth I would say. Both on a temporal level as well as the spiritual. The title can refer to the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land within society itself, but also to become as one with “none” (nought) before and beyond creation.

Referring to your system of beliefs, what is your own truth that you are trying to convey through “At One With No One”? If not, perhaps do you pose questions for the listener for him or her to think about, to attempt to find a sort of answer or solution to their own problems?

Yes, I would say that the lyrics on this album are leaning a bit more towards posing questions than the lyrics on our earlier albums are. At least some of them, like the first three songs for example. They deal with philosophy and contemplations on the world, while the rest of the songs connects more directly to magical practice and spiritual insights. All are connected though, for as above, so below…

Later on the album, you talk about the one who stands, as the dossier suggests, the one called Simon Magnus. Is he the image that was drawn on the artwork? If not, what do you make of that individual on the cover?

He who stands is just a title that was attributed to Simon Magus by his followers. The song is not particularly about him as a person, but the general concept of the song connects to spiritual becoming through the practice of magic. To overcome worldly hindrances through the sorcerous art. One can say that this is portrayed also in the character on the front artwork, who is the magician entering into the great unknown to become at one with none.

Throughout the years, Portrait has been the next generation of Mercyful Fate, but let’s be honest, you have grown on top, slowly making your own signatures into classic Heavy Metal. “At One With No One” is where the mystery and darkness of Mercyful Fate meet with NWOBHM at its finest, nonetheless, channeling a sense that is a path towards an unknown horizon. How would you describe the musical evolution that Portrait underwent through the work on this record?

We have always had quite an atmospheric side to our sound, but I would say that this side takes up a bit more space on this album. While Burn the world for example was aggressive and fast, this one focus more upon the melodic part. We did not think too much about that when writing the songs though, we just let the inspiration loose and this is what came out this time.

You mentioned that you never trace back your steps, meaning you prevent yourself from making the same thing twice, nothing new to be like earlier work. I must admit that is quite a challenge. I wonder, how were you able to scratch that itch of being on to something that might be amazing, yet you dump it because it has an inclination of something that you did in the past?

Well, I know that part is included in the press release, and many are asking about it. But it maybe gives an incorrect impression. It is not like we write songs and then realize they sound too similar to something we have already done and scratch them. We just write music and the stuff we are satisfied with; we keep. The rest is scratched because it doesn’t hold up in our opinion. We are proud of having found our own style and quite unique sound, but it is something that has happened by itself more or less, over the years. When channeling inspiration from within, the music and lyrics become very personal. This is what we do and as we grow as persons, so does the music. When it stops it stops, and then it is time to quit.

Other than not sounding similar to past deeds, what were your expectations when you wrote riffs and melodies for “At One With No One”? What marked a song as a pass under your supervision?

It is just the feeling that comes from a melody or riff really. It is hard to put words on it and we had no specific guidelines either. But it is important that we have as many forms of musical expressions as possible included on the albums, and still of course keeping it within the Portrait realm so to speak.

After this process, which I can guess was a draining sequence in the new album’s life, did you feel drained, as if you needed a break for just a little in order to catch your breath, easing your mind a bit?

No, not really. I think we finished some of the arrangements just a week before we started recording the album. And then the mixing process to quite some time as well, then all the album promotion etc, so I am still waiting for being able to catch that breath, ha ha!

Even with the length of the songs, I must say that the album swept me off my feet, it rattled my brains and dashed through me so fast, each and every listen. What do you make of this comment? What have you felt while listening to the record in that context?

That is good! I guess it proves that you were enchanted by the music and time did not really matter, and you managed to keep your focus without getting bored. I feel the same when listening to it now actually. The album playing time is quite long, but the listening is quite an intense journey and no parts feel unnecessary.

 “He Who Stands”, other than being conceptually interesting and welcoming various types of interpretations, its musical arrangement crosses the normal, providing ample dimensions where types of Metalheads can find themselves. The creation of suspense is on the verge of theatrical, there is something horrific, yet glorious. What do you make of this tune?

It is one of the songs on the album which I am most satisfied with. There are a lot of elements in it, and some that are quite new to us. It will have to be up to the listener of course, but this is the kind of song that I very much enjoy writing and performing these days.

A song that felt like a free bird, and its title really had me thinking if it was actually a joke or not, is “Curtains (The Dumb Supper)”. What must you tell me on what it is all about? Furthermore, it is a little more straightforward tune, classically arranged to be larger than life type, where your vocalist shines through. What can you tell of this track’s creation and its impact on the record?

It is not a joke, that’s for sure. The dumb supper is the name of a pagan ritual in which the dead is given offerings in return for their blessings upon the living. In the context of the lyrics, dealing with the importance of questioning what is regarded and told as “truth”, the curtain is the “blindfold” of human herd-mentality, and the authorities are the ones who “feed” the “dead” for them to do their bidding.

What does the future hold for Portrait upon the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022? I guess once the touring is back, you are back on the road yourselves?

We have some shows coming up during the Autumn and some stuff booked for next year already. We hope to play live as much as possible and we will do what it takes to do so!

Christian, listening to you guys was a pure headbanging pleasure while embracing the classic tunes of drama of the old days. Thank you for a great record and for the talk. All the best.

Thank you too!



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