There’s been a lot of blackened music in 2018. Whether it’s Rolo Tomassi, KEN Mode or Deafheaven, plenty of bands have had a unique take on the genre. Using and binding it with various other styles, be it hardcore or shoegaze, to generally astounding results, should always demand attention. It has however been done quite a lot, so where does that leave Austin, Texas’ Portrayal of Guilt? Does releasing so late into a year of already stellar music discount them from the proper kudos they deserve, or does the sound simply seem overdone?
From a production standpoint, this album is authentically black. Wiry, scathing guitars cut through the mix with a trebly rattle, while Matt King’s vocals have that halfway-down-a-corridor reverb that Mayhem, Bathory and Emperor found in the early days of the Norwegian scene. The rhythm section however has a starkly hardcore feel to it. A certain grimy lustre gives it a d-beat quality, more akin to the likes of Black Flag or Discharge, filling out the lo-fi approach to sonics toward which the band have clearly strived. There are also seemingly jazzy influences incorporated into James Beveridge’s percussion, with technically precise snare rolls filling out the vast clean passages.
Daymare is a creeping creature with impressively adept rhythmic dynamism, segueing effortlessly between blast-beat speed and a grooving swing. Clean guitar lines soaked in echoes bring an icy texture and a looming, foreboding sense. Distorted bass gives way for the crushing blow of heaviness the belter of a tune brings, and King’s tortured vocals shriek tunefully into a howling abyss. The vocals find themselves jumping between blackened squeals, death growls and hardcore yelps. Each is done wonderfully and don’t fall into the trap of wearing influences so blatantly on one’s sleeve that they end up sounding like impressions.
Turning their hand to multiple genres seems to be second nature. There’s grindcore in Life Holds Nothing, dark industrial in brief instrumental The Hunger and a touch of minimalism in the stunning Death is Gentle. The whole album is concise and well crafted. Whichever flavour the band turn their hands to is done with a level of nous not achieved by even veterans of heavy music. A mere twenty three minutes of lean, crunching terror.
Taking cues from Converge as much as Emperor, Portrayal craft themselves a distinct sound; a unique one. Spine chilling subtlety from the guitar and vocals, and monolithically heavy bass work, all topped off with a fusion style percussive performance leave this album reaching for the heights of the best of heavy releases this year. What’s even more stunning is that this is a debut. This is a band to watch. There’s fierce competition ahead.