Usually when we discuss black metal bands that try to stretch their reach beyond a particular sound, we kind of laugh at the idea that there are specific lines in which one must paint and a template for how to create art. It’s silly. You don’t get that handcuffed approach in other subgenres of metal and heavy music in general, as experimentation and creativity often are celebrated and rewarded.
Austin trio Portrayal of Guilt likely would not be super cooperative in the confines of a strictly structured genre, and so they light all the rules and expectations on fire on their explosive second full-length “We Are Always Alone,” the follow-up to 2018’s scathing “Let Pain Be Your Guide,” itself an eye-opening release. It would be easy to name hardcore as a root for the band, but you can just as easily say punk or doom or black metal, since they fuck with all of those, but you’d never really put your finger on exactly what’s going on here. The band—vocalist/guitarist Matt King, bassist Alex Stanfield, drummer James Beveridge—bring volatility, passion, and chaos to these nine tracks, and from moment one to the end, there’s not any time to catch your breath or seek cover, because the assault is relentless.
“The Second Coming” burst from the gates with gnarly vocals from King as well as violent, yet melodic tributaries. The track is short but effective, agitating fires as we head into “Anesthetized” where the bass drives and takes total command. Wild shrieks crush as the riffs shift into a strange doomy haze, smearing blood into clouds as we move toward “A Tempting Pain” that’s an outright demolition from the start. The playing is smothering and coats your lungs with soot while orchestral noise warps and drags the song to its end. “It’s Already Over” starts with clean notes, which only adds confusion, and then things pulsate as a post-hardcore-style haze floats overhead. Shrieks carve as the song slowly unfolds, bringing tension and thorniness that slam shut the door on your hand.
“Masochistic Oath” has strange riffs reigning as the shrieks hammer away, and black metal melodies enter the mix and make things more sinister. Things push into mystical terrain before the vocals slice veins, the drums unload, and everything ends in industrial chaos. “They Want Us All to Suffer” is complete savagery as things start, with more black metal influences erupting and the vocals carving flesh. The guitars send jolts through your system and things abruptly end, paving the way for “Garden of Despair” that has a Nirvana feel to it as it gets started. The track comes unglued as sludge piles on top, eventually taking on a hardcore vibe, and then it gets weird and trancey. But that’s temporary as it’s not long until blows rain down again, as the repeated shouts of, “Searching for ecstasy,” leave bruises and psychological damage as things end in noise. “My Immolation” is tempered as it begins, but you know the punishment is coming as King taunts, “Breathe in, breathe out,” before the track melts into dreamy rock. Clean singing numbs as the track gets hypnotic and wiry, ending in a bloody slither. The title track ends the record with sounds rushing, muddy madness pushing, and the vocals caving in your skull, meeting up with a singular guitar than stings your nerves. Wild cries hang in the air, the tension builds, and things come to a bludgeoning end.
If anyone thought Portrayal of Guilt was going to settle shit down or pump the brakes on their maddening sound, “We Are Always Alone” is all the proof you need that any thoughts of that nature were silly to have had in the first place. This band’s stinging sound and relentless energy are all over this record, playing games with your nerve endings and psyche. There is no calm, no healing, no solace, as everything staring you in the face is psychological violence you cannot side step.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/portrayalofguilt/
To buy the album, go here: https://orcd.co/portrayalofguilt
For more on the label, go here: https://closedcasketactivities.com/
And here: https://evilgreed.net/
And here: https://deathwishinc.com/