Traditional heavy metal is making a comeback which, considering the cyclical nature of these things, makes sense. As the standard bearers of the genre age but continue their output someone has to pick up the banner in order it to survive. There’s only so long that acts like King Diamond and Iron Maiden will realistically be capable of performing at high levels. That’s one of the reasons why this recent revival is refreshing.
While we’ve seen power metal survive and occasionally thrive on the backs of bands like Sonata Arctica, Blind Guardian, and the ever enjoyable DragonForce, there needed to be new blood. We certainly are seeing that now with any number of bands across the world employing the tools of their predecessors to breathe new life into a style that had largely become bereft of new talent. Metal had begun to exist as a contest of heavier and heaviest, featuring increasingly unintelligible lyrics and walls of sound that eschewed wailing vocals and symphonic leads.
While death and black metal are seeing amazing leaps forward in talent, production, and ability for the denizens of the traditional metal world what we’re seeing from bands such as Enforcer, dawnbringer, Sumerlands, Eternal Champion, and Striker must seem like manna from heaven… or hell, depending upon your preference. One band that has been plugging away at this style, beginning as a bit of a Mercyful Fate worship act and evolving with each new release is Sweden’s Portrait (the band name derives from Diamond’s first solo album, Fatal Portrait). On their latest offering, Burn the World, we see a band who is getting comfortable with their own take on the venerable speed riffs, blazing solos, and soaring vocals of trad metal creating an addictive blend for fans.
On Burn the World, Portrait do an amazing job of breathing new life into the format made popular by bands like Exciter, Artillery, and Sodom with nary a trace of irony. This is one of the key features of this new wave of trad metal. The bands performing it are taking it seriously in all of its cheeky trappings and melodramatic glory. Portrait are not exempt from this and one could make a case that they are, if not the best, one of the best at it. One compelling thing on display with this new album is that tug of war happening between the band’s continuing evolution and their King Diamond-loving past. There is no better example of this than the track “Likfassna” which even incorporates an extended keyboard section to, seemingly, drive home that point of “hey, you know, we kind of like that Danish metal”.
That isn’t to say that the band aren’t clearly still indebted to their Danish forebears but one of the things that we find in play now is that the guitar riffs walk the fine line between the foundations of speed metal and the phrasing of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner of Mercyful Fate. The interplay of Christian Lindell and, recent addition, Robin Holmberg is pretty exciting stuff as they constantly shift gears between intricate traditional metal riffs, dueling guitar leads, and all out speed but they do it so deftly that it never comes across as forced. That their playing can carry two eight-minute songs (“Martyrs” and penultimate track, “Pure of Heart”) in a way that keeps them from ever sounding stale is remarkable in its own right and shows how far the band have come as a whole.
Per Lengstedt also deserves a lot of credit here for allowing his King Diamond love to shine bright for all to see but reining it in just enough to maintain the space between influence and mimicry. His strongest performances on the album are on the title track and “Mine to Reap” where he blends his love for Diamond’s style with some Geoff Tate-esque accents showing off an impressive range. This vocal style is extremely hard to pull off when one considers the constant shifting in a challenging upper register but Lengstedt is clearly up for the challenge.
At the end of the day, this album holds up with the very best, not just in the trad revival, but also slots right in with some of the classics that they worship and emulate. The opening riff of “The Sower’s Cross” and it’s brief sampling of their sound is all the evidence one needs to understand that this is a band in command of their craft now. We would all do well to heed Burn the World as a harbinger of what is possible with new trad metal and look forward to more from this band as they continue to develop. If you like guitar pyrotechnics and classic wailing, clean vocals then you should add this to your collection, and a patch to your jean jacket, right now.
Portrait’s Burn the World is available via Metal Blade here.