Welcome to a metallic carnival of horrors, this way madness lies! Taking their cues from Hell, Twisted Sister and Mercyful Fate, Portrait indulge in metal classicism with a joie de vivre that diffuses any criticism of plagiarism with a sinister grin and a flash of studded leather. The band’s fourth full-length album since 2008’s self-titled debut, ‘Burn the world’ shows signs of evolution amidst the high-pitched yelps and irrepressible riffs, but at its heart it is a thrilling heavy metal throwback to an era when Priest ruled supreme and King Diamond spent his time shattering glass with a shriek that could be heard on Mars. It may not reinvent the wheel, but sure as hell gets the blood pumping through the veins, this is metal at its purest.
Kicking off with a short intro that sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned fairground at midnight, Portrait really get things moving with the album’s title track, a hellish melee of twisted riffs and Per Lengstedt’s soaring vocals. With the latter reminiscent of a cross between King Diamond and Matts Leven (Therion / Candlemass) and with the twin guitar assault delivering all the metal, it’s a cracking, if somewhat derivative, start to the record and anyway, who really cares if it’s derivative if it rocks this hard and puts this much of a smile on your face? It’s not all a masterclass in summoning the lumbering corpse of Mercyful fate, however, with ‘Likfassna’ drawing sinister, Hammer Horror keyboards into the mix and even a hint of neo-classical sturm und drang, just for good measure. It’s actually pretty awe inspiring and it keep things fast, furious and fun in unexpected ways. The brilliantly-titled ‘flaming blood’ is a blistering assault on the senses with awkward time signatures and dizzying riffs conspiring to leave you with your jaw on the floor even before the vocals detonate. It’s Mercyful Fate in excelsis, true, but there’s a panache in the delivery that is hard to ignore. Keeping close to the Mercyful Fate blueprint, ‘mine to reap’ offers up some face-melting solos amidst the high-pitched theatrics and is simply great fun.
Heading into the heavily harmonised territory of early Queensryche, ‘martyrs’ is a song that sees Portrait flex their creative muscles to deliver a more reflective track whilst the acoustic interlude of ‘further she rode’ offers a dash of beauty to proceedings. Surging from its short, sweet predecessor, ‘the sowers cross’ sounds even heavier by comparison, its rampant riffs and layered vocals offering up the album’s most addictive chorus yet. Edging towards the album’s conclusion, ‘to die for’ has a brutal riff that recalls those brief moents when Therion lets go and Matts has his moment to stand centre-stage, with the operatic elements briefly shelved. It leaves only the epic finale, ‘pure of heart’, to see the record out. At nine minutes in length it gives plenty of opportunity for the band to explore their sound and, this they do, offering up expanded, harmonised solos and plenty of time changes to keep things flowing right until the end. It’s an ambitious conclusion and it brings the album a more than satisfactory conclusion.
Sometimes you want to just let a band batter you with unadorned metal and Portrait do successfully unleash hell all over the listener but, even so, their metallic assault incorporates myriad elements that expand the palette beyond the expected. It is these moments that raise the album above the average and which will keep the listener returning for more. Trad. Metal with an edge, ‘Burn the world’ is an impressive effort and well worth a listen. 8