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Portrait - Crossroads

by Julius "Dreadheart" Mikkela at 22 May 2014, 4:56 PM

Looking for a Speed Metal fix? Then you’ve come to the right place! Enter PORTRAIT, a Swedish Speed Metal act formed in 2006 who for all intents and purposes appears to be the spiritual successor to Denmark’s MERCYFUL FATE. Why is this, many may wonder (many of them probably Danish and hostile)? Because listening to their third full-length album “Crossroads” is like finding an old and excellent demo recording by the Danish First Wave of Black Metal masters MERCYFUL FATE. And that sentence in probably every way sums up what I have to say about this band, but let’s get into the details!

So, first of all let’s not delude ourselves: These guys sound like MERCYFUL FATE to the point of ridiculousness, and you will hear the comparison over and over across this review. Now that would in many other cases be a bad thing, but the simple truth is that there hasn’t been a band that has captured the essence of MERCYFUL FATE the way PORTRAIT has done, which turns bad to simply extraordinary.

The first and probably most obvious style similarity are the vocals. And vocalist Per Lengstedt has some serious pipes that would make just about every Metal vocalist ever jealous. And let’s be clear here: I’m saying that in the light of comparing him to MERCYFUL FATE’s extraordinary vocalist; KING DIAMOND, where most vocalists would simply fall flat. Well not in this case, although it’s safe to say that the student has not (yet) reached point where he may become the master. However let not the praise of one member make PORTRAIT appear a one-man-show; the entire band proves several times over the course of the album that they’re serious Metal musicians with enough skill and passion to single-handedly restore Speed Metal to their lost throne.

The second most obvious relation to MERCYFUL FATE is the sound, which is the exact same type of old-school Doom-meets-Speed Metal that reeks of the occult and the supernatural in a PENTAGRAM style while riffing and rocking in a way that’d make even the mighty MOTÖRHEAD proud. And the music never gets boring here, as it changed dynamically with the course of each song while never becoming a dragged-out bore. Quite the contrary; I genuinely felt like every song on the album was great in its own right and on a whole this was just a blast to listen through. My two clear favorites were the plain rocking “We Were Not Alone” and the somehow JUDAS PRIEST-reminiscent “In Time”, with an honourable mention to the first track “At the Ghost Gate” which honestly made me wonder if I actually had accidentally put on a MERCYFUL FATE song.

The thing that weighs down the album however is the sound quality, and here we come to the part where I referred to it being a MERCYFUL FATE demo. It’s not that the sound quality is bad, it’s just so distorted and chaotic that it simply holds back the music contained within. In a way, PORTRAIT suffers the exact same problem that many modern Black Metal bands do by trying to be an old-school or “retro” sounding band in an age where distorted music quality isn’t (or rather shouldn’t be) acceptable. Instead of taking cues from modern Speed Metal acts like WOLF or WHITE WIZZARD, PORTRAIT’s “Crossroads” has gone down the path of trying to sound as if the album was recorded in the early 80’s. The result is an album that may actually take time to get into and really enjoy because it takes time to adjust to the distortion. And though many old-school fans will eat this up like cocaine-sweetened candy, I fear it will be more of a hindrance than a gain for this otherwise splendid album.

However, the great thing about bad sound quality is that is says nothing about the music. And on that point, PORTRAIT is and should be considered the spiritual successor of MERCYFUL FATE because of their sheer talent and passion (and the sound, by the Metal Gods the sound). Be on lookout for this band, because I wouldn’t be surprised if PORTRAIT will one day (sooner rather than later) spearhead a Speed Metal renaissance. Until then, enjoy the damn fine Speed Metal extraordinaire album that is “Crossroads”.

4 Star Rating

1. Liberation
2. At the Ghost Gate
3. We Were Not Alone
4. In Time
5. Black Easter
6. Ageless Rites
7. Our Roads Must Never Cross
8. Lily
Per Lengstedt - Vocals
Anders Persson - Drums
Christian Lindell - Guitar
David Olofsson - Guitar
Cab Castervall – Bass
Record Label: Metal Blade Records


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Edited 01 April 2023

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