Portrayal of Guilt – We are Always Alone
Label: Closed Casket Activities
Genre: Screamo, post-black metal, punk
On their second full-length album, We are Always Alone, Austin-based band Portrayal of Guilt continues to develop their genre-bending sound. There is a lot to unpack here; at its core is a hefty dose of early 2000s screamo in the vein of Pg. 99 and Love Lost but not Forgotten along with some black metal atmospherics. Throw in some elements of grindcore and even a bit of post-punk, and it’s clear this is a band that is not afraid to experiment and take risks. There is nothing wrong with blending genres in an effort to create your own sound, but this experimentation doesn’t really pay off for Portrayal of Guilt on this album. For one, the length of the album works against them; at only 26 minutes it’s over almost before it really kicks into gear, especially when most of the songs have short instrumental interludes either in the middle or at the end. Even with this short length, We are Always Alone feels stretched out, and it almost feels like the band wrote about 18 minutes of material and added these instrumental segments after the fact. Portrayal of Guilt is at its best when they are raging, and it is unfortunate that these intense blasts only last for about 45 seconds to a minute at a time before segwaying into another melancholy interlude. During the best songs on the album (“Anethesized” and “They Want us All to Suffer”), I found myself anticipating the transitions rather than truly enjoying them as they unfolded. This album is a step back from their leaner, more focused debut album and despite its good moments, We are Always Alone is a sign that Portrayal of Guilt is still figuring out how to best hone their style.
Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit
Label: Invada Records
Genre: Doom/noise metal
In a recent interview with UK site Astral Noize, Australian duo Divide and Dissolve was quoted as saying “our sound came about by us connecting with our ancestors and nature. We seek to bring honour to them with our music.” I was immediately intrigued with this premise, especially considering Divide and Dissolve are an instrumental group of Native descent. It’s fair to say that they pulled this off with their latest release, Gas Lit. By no means is this an easy listen. I wouldn’t even necessarily say it’s “enjoyable” in the traditional sense. However, this album is important, even for non-metal fans. The onslaught of reverb and crashing drums creates an atmosphere of dread throughout the majority of the album. This wall of noise is broken up periodically by dissonant saxophone and other effects, which just adds another layer to the nightmare. The only vocals on the album is the spoken word interlude “Did You Have Something to Do With It?” which rails against human greed, selfishness and white supremacy. This brief reprieve from the noise is timed perfectly and sets up the claustrophobic ugliness that follows. The one main complaint I have with Gas Lit (its length) can actually alternatively be viewed as a strength. At only 34 minutes not a second is wasted, although I wouldn’t have minded if a few of the songs (“It’s Really Complicated” and “We Are Really Worried About You” in particular) were expanded a bit. All in all this is a minor issue for an album that serves as a stark reminder of the desperation of the human condition in 2021.
Dread Sovereign – Alchemical Warfare
Label: Metal Blade Records
Genre: Hard rock, doom metal
“Blues influenced blackened doom metal” is not a musical style that I profess to be well-versed in, but after hearing a track from Dread Sovereign’s new album, Alchemical Warfare, I was hooked by the wide range of influences the band draws from. The album draws influence from all over the rock and metal spectrum, from classic acts like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to more recent bands like the Sword, Pallbearer and Mastodon. After a short intro, the album kicks into gear a few minutes into the lengthy “She Wolves of the Savage Season,” which sounds exactly like a song with this sort of title should sound. Lengthy solos and jamming are sporadically interrupted by some impressive riffs and charging rhythm section. The production really stands out on this album; the bass and drums have a lot of depth and provides an extra layer of gloom which complements the vocal themes well. The two best songs on the album are the ones that sound the least alike: the bluesy “Her Master’s Voice” and the raging “The Great Beast We Serve,” which is a testament to the talent the band possesses. Despite this, the album has a few flaws that prevent it from achieving greatness. Singer Alan Averill has an impressive vocal range but his occasional hair metal-esque shrieks are cringe-inducing. A few songs could also use some trimming, especially the aforementioned “She Wolves…” and “Ruin Upon the Temple Mount.” The lengthy solos and interludes that are scattered throughout the album are often too long and caused me to temporarily lose interest. Even with these faults, Alchemical Warfare is an impressive and ambitious effort and anyone with an interest in hard rock and metal should find something to like here.