Band: Portrayal of Guilt
Title: We Are Always Alone
Label: Closed Casket Activities
Release Date: 29 January 2021
Format Reviewed: High-Quality Digital Promo
We seem to be living in the age of what for Metal is the equivalent of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Yes of course there are still bands releasing straight Death Metal, or Black Metal, or Thrash Metal, but more and more we’re hearing bands that blend so many elements together it becomes a bit of a mouthful to attempt a categorisation. Austin, Texas’ Portrayal of Guilt are sometimes referred to as Screamo, but I hate this term so much (and hope I will never have cause to write it ever again), I think it’s time to coin a new term: Sludgecore, and that’s my best attempt at a simple categorisation of the music on the band’s second album “We Are Always Alone”.
As far as I can tell, whoever coined the term Screamo (fuck, that’s twice!) never listened to Extreme Metal, because by the way there’s a lot of screaming round these parts. Portrayal of Guilt Vocalist/ Guitarist Matt King mostly employs a vocal style that’s part Black Metal howl and part Sludge Metal strangled retch and it’s pretty damned cool to be honest. For sure though it will put a lot of listeners off. I admire the band that they’ve chosen to have such a niche vocal style to go along with music that is for sure aggressive and angular and disturbing, but with a more melodic vocal style could probably appeal to a wider audience. They are clearly unafraid to be ugly and unpalatable. Kudos!
The album starts with a bang, as “The Second Coming” delivers an immediate burst of flailing drums and guitars, like an explosive device, rolled down a hill in a barrel, before the track levels out into more of a steady, angular rhythm, the band coming to sound something like Fugazi if they were fed on a steady diet of Black and Sludge Metal.
Many of the tracks are linked together with drifting ambient passages, which creates this feeling of continuous music with peaks and valleys of intensity. So it is leading into and out of the second track “Anesthetised”, which builds off of a fat bass line and powerful, thumping drums. The guitars at first run a quick, uneasy melody, which you can anticipate is going to build up to something of an explosive payoff, which it does. There’s a Hardcore energy to a lot of the music and these mostly one and a half to two minute tracks (taking away the ambient passages) fit that style.
Taking that as the underlying framework though, there are lots of very Metal elements that make up the tracks. The previously mentioned “Anesthetised”, the frenetic “They Want Us All To Suffer” and the sludgy “Garden of Despair” all have some passages very reminiscent of serial Extreme Metal genre-hoppers Today Is The Day (especially their “In The Eyes of God” album). The later track is probably the catchiest of the album and manages to also blend in an apocalyptic feel something like Neurosis and in some parts a Metalcore Converge vibe.
Elsewhere, listeners will hear the Black Metal influences coming out, especially on “A Tempting Pain” with its very we’re-caught-in-a-blizzard Black Metal opening. Also the extremely sinister “Masochistic Oath” starts out with creepy, spidery guitars, while the drums play this cool rat-a-tat snare back and forth with pounding bass drum hits, before the band goes full-tilt into a Black Metal gallop, the track morphing into a rhythm that’s very reminiscent of Darkthrone, before going back into the creepy, spidery guitar part.
Elsewhere “My Immolation” starts out with a particularly infectious groove, then, as with many other tracks on the album, seamlessly transitions through brutally hard and fast passages of different dimensions, before moving into a dark and dreary (in a good way) mid-tempo, eerie rhythm, complete with some very un-Extreme Metal mournful vocals. The final track “We Are Always Alone” meanwhile gives the drummer an opportunity to show off his chops with some great, rolling rhythms. In fact, the drumming is great throughout this album.
Altogether “We Are Always Alone” is a very satisfying listen if you want to subject yourself to something that’s generally aggressive and nasty, but also shows an undoubted interest in melody. It’s never pretty, but at its best it’s pretty captivating. Yes, some may use the term Screamo (third time! Fuck!), but to me, it’s much more interesting than that. 8/10 Tom Boatman
8/10 To Greatness and Glory!
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