Thumbing my nose at the True Believers
(I’m not going to bother moving all 500+ of my reviews over here because I am a lazy man, but I’d like to herald my entrance to Review Lads with an album that I love that I also know Thumbman hates.)
If Bell Witch can be held responsible for anything at all, it’s introducing the metal world to Mariusz Lewandowski, apparently the only human being in the galaxy capable of accurately emulating Zdzislaw Beksinski’s iconic art style. Since painting the stunning cover of the aforementioned Mirror Reaper, this nearly sixty year old painter has suddenly found himself one of the most in-demand artists in the entire metal sphere, and one of the bands that won the Lewandowski Lottery this year was Minnesota’s False, a band finding itself scrutinized fairly hard by those in the know. This midwestern sextet seems almost lab grown in how they hit every single nerve when it comes to soaking up alternative press adoration as the token “metal band we’ll allow ourselves to like”. Gorgeous cover art, female vocalist, pristine production quality, easy to absorb and understand music, inspiration from modern styles of metal, signed to Gilead (home of Smart Person BM heavyweights like Yellow Eyes, Mizmor, Falls of Rauros, and Krallice (and previously Fantano mainstays like Imperial Triumphant and Thou)), they blacked out the Internet Metal Journalist bingo card before a note was even heard. I can absolutely understand the skepticism from the underground when a band hits a meteoric rise like False did when every single element seems like the closest thing to an industry plant that metal can muster.
However, sometimes the Hipster Hype Train gets it right. Maybe, just maybe, it was purely by accident/coincidence that False has all of those aesthetic bits that made them media darlings so quickly (though it may be worth noting that they’ve existed for nearly ten years without a lineup change before finally hitting it big with their sophomore release here), because none of that shit should even matter in the first place, and allowing it to cloud your judgment of the album obscures some fantastic songwriting.
I’d be lying if I said Portent was something radically new or unique, but I’d also be lying if I said this was a shamelessly derivative copypasta. It’s pretty close to impossible to listen to any random snippet of this album and not be reminded of Emperor’s full lengths from the 90s, but their personal twist on it is that they’re paradoxically hypermaximalist while taking heaps of influence from drawn out minimalist atmoblack of the Cascadian variety. It’s no secret that I love overly busy maximalism, I am one of the last dudes still loving obnoxious tech death after all, and I think putting such an idea into the context of extremely lengthy and atmospheric black metal creates a sound that should be a total disaster but somehow works marvelously. For example, synths are featured on the album, but they’re never “prominent” in the sense that they’re carrying the melody. They’re settled back playing simple chords to accent the atmosphere, unlike the Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk style of hammering you over the head with doodly melodies. The guitar instead takes the lead when it comes to these things, and they restrain themselves only insofar as they aren’t playing shredding Yngwie Malmsteen arpeggios, because they’re doing everything else they can to be the star of the show here. Occasional bursts of major key triumph pepper the landscape laid out on Portent, and they never let these moments go by without drawing attention to them. Take a look at the 3:37 mark in “A Victual for Our Dead Selves”. That right there is an abrupt shift in mood from slow, agonizing death into a bombastic victory fanfare, and it’s done without a reliance on tooting keys at all. It’s just pure, unadulterated, fist pumping metal slicing through the darkness.
Almost all of the buzz surrounding the album, positive and negative, has done well to describe the music accurately, with the only real difference being the qualitative assessment thereof. If you don’t like the idea of especially busy atmoblack, then False was never going to appeal to you to begin with, and that’s fine. For me though, this is superb. Imagine Wolves in the Throne Room or Altar of Plagues except the drums almost never slowing down and the melodies less floating in the upper spaces and more being shot out of a bazooka. Portent is forceful in its expressiveness, very much taking background elements and exploding them into the foreground. My only real complaints are ultimately pretty nitpicky, those being that the vocals aren’t nearly as impressive as the rest of the band and “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat” is 100% just two separate songs smashed together, complete with fifteen seconds of silence between the two halves. It’s such an oddly pointless thing to do and I wonder if somebody insisted that every song needed to be over ten minutes or else the album wasn’t getting released. Pure speculation, but whoever had that idea is a doofus.
So the hype train took a stop in Minnesota and picked up False, but I’m happily hanging onto the caboose like a filthy transient, pumping my fist and hooting the whole way. Portent just hammers you over the head with riff after riff after melody after riff and I adore it. Maybe it’s overbearing for those who can’t stop huffing the fumes of burning ravens and slashing their wrists with their bullet belts, but for those of you who, like me, wished atmoblack as a scene would stop pumping out so much drawn out mediocrity and finally let something fucking happen for a change, Portent is a godsend.