Portrait have been releasing quality albums with the consistency of a Swiss watch (every three years to be exact) and with four full-length releases in their back catalogue they've become a traditional metal institution now. Drawing inspiration from the darker side of the force (yes, they like Mercyful Fate a lot) but putting their own stamp onto the songs they write, the band have gathered a dedicated following of old-school maniacs. We spoke to Christian about the necessity of line-up changes, the daily struggles of underground metal bands, Heavy Load, the occult and likfassna, but we kicked the chat off with "Burn the World".
Looking back at the album from a 4-month perspective, are you entirely happy with the whole package, the songs, production etc. or would you change anything if you had a chance to go back?
I am very satisfied with the songs and the production, and I still think it is our best album so far, but there are some things that could have been done better. I'm not 100% satisfied with the guitar recordings, some stuff should have been doubled and other placed on lead channels instead of the rhythm guitar channels and so on. But I think it will be like this after every release also in the future, there are always those details that you want to change and you learn a lot from each recording process. I guess that is the way it should be.
Did you start writing the album when the previous release cycle was finished or did you collect the ideas all along the way?
We continued writing along the way since "Crossroads" was released, but the process was more focused from winter 2015 until the summer of2 016. "Martyrs" was the first song that was completed and I remember showing it to the others during the winter of 2014 I think.
Two guys left the band before the recording session so you recorded the album as a trio. So, was the session more difficult than the previous one where you had the full line-up in the studio?
Both yes and no. As we were only three members, who also have been playing together for quite some time now, it was easier to take decisions about the arrangements and so on. On the other hand, I had to record all of the guitars except for Set Teitan's guest solos and Per's acoustic piece. I also recorded the bass so it all took a lot of effort and I can't say the process was easy, but I enjoyed it most of the time.
How did you hook-up with Kev from Hell? He does excellent work on the album and I think he wrote the intro too, right?
We have met him and the other Hell guys several times and I think we actually asked him about guest appearing already in 2012, but we somehow forgot about it when recording the "Crossroads" album. I think it was Per's idea to let Kev do whatever he felt like on this album, and basically, we sent him the whole recording and he did what he felt would fit each song. He is a very talented musician and completely understood what we wanted.
What's the meaning of "Likfassna"?
It literally means "corpse stuck", and it is an old word describing the condition and symptoms of being possessed and/or affected by a soul of the dead leading to mental illness, alcoholism, depression and other problems, as a result of having angered the soul in question or having it sent upon oneself through witchcraft/svartkonst/trolldom.
When I first saw the cover art I thought it was the Gandalf/Balrog scene, ha-ha! But clearly, it's not. Could you explain the idea behind it?
The concept to me is the nature of this world and its creator, symbolised by the big figure having a blindfold and chained angels attached to his arms. Since the release also other meanings have presented themselves to me, relating to the falling watchers and such concepts. I am very satisfied with the work that Adam Burke did! Truly classic cover art that fits the content perfectly.
It's a kind of tradition for you to close the albums with complex epic numbers. Is writing an almost-9-minute-long tune like "Pure of Heart" any harder than "regular" songs?
Yeah, we've done that a couple of times now ha-ha! I actually tried to put the songs in a different order this time just to break that tradition, but it did not feel right in the end. "Pure of Heart" is a perfect ending. I don't think it is harder to write that kind of songs, but it also has to come naturally and should not be forced. It is all about the atmosphere in the first riffs or melodies that you write for a new song, and you must learn to identify if they would fit for a long epic song or a more straight-forward one and then work it from the right perspective and all will fall into place in the end hopefully. That's the way we do it at least.
You've got two new guys in the ranks. Any chance this line-up will last a bit longer than the previous ones?
Well, we'll see... I feel like having said the same thing about every line-up we've had, that all feels great now and blablabla, then all turns to shit all of a sudden. For now, everything is fine but I won't make any promises, ha-ha! What is good is at least that me, Anders and Per have proven that we can write and record great music as a 3-piece, so as long as the three of us are still here there should be no reason for people to worry about it.
You play quite specific music so, is it easy to find musicians interested in playing this kind of dark metal, who understand what Portrait is about?
No, it is quite hard actually. The ones who understand the music are often the ones that have put more time and effort into listening to metal, going to shows, record collecting etc., than to learn to play an instrument good enough.
How much would you say you have matured as songwriters since the band's beginnings?
I think we have matured a lot both when it comes to music as well as lyrics. In the beginning, you take influences from the outside and try to do your own thing based on that, but you need to start to look for inspiration from within instead, and then things can start to get really interesting.
You've got some references to the occult in your lyrics, but people who are not into it may not understand what you're saying sometimes. Which books would you recommend to someone who'd like to learn more about the occult?
That depends on a lot of different things as there are many different "paths" to choose from, most of them being nothing but role-play or black metal "satanism". My advise would be to read as much as you can and start to practice what you read as early as possible, in case you feel an honest connection to what you are reading.
Whose idea was it to release the split EP with Ram and record covers of each other?
It was my idea I think, or it came out of some discussion I had some time together with Oscar, the singer of Ram. They are one of my favorite bands and we will be on tour with them next month. Really looking forward to it!
It was cool to hear you recorded a tune from Exciter's "Dark Command" for that EP. That album is so underrated, don't you think?
Yes, indeed it is. It is as good as their first three albums in my opinion. Ferocious and barbaric metal of the highest order!
Have you heard the EP from Source with Oscar from Ram on vocals and two guys who used to play with Portrait? Do you like what they've created?
Yes, I have heard it and I think it is great stuff. I recognised some of the riffs as we rehearsed them with Portrait when Richard was still in the band.
I've got a question about one of the Swedish cult bands, Heavy Load. They are well known to the underground maniacs worldwide, but in your country they seem to actually have a rockstar status. I've heard there were news about them on national TV etc.
Yes, they are quite big here I suppose one could say. But that thing with national TV might be a bit exaggerated. They said it on the news but it was in a part of the program called "Kulturnyheterna" which always deals with music, books, movies etc. And if I remember correctly the major thing was not that they had re-united, but rather that they were the first band announced for Sweden Rock Festival this year. But anyway, they are quite big and even old farts who only listened to metal when it was popular during the first half of the '80s and then haven't cared for it since, know about them as they were one of the first real metal bands from Sweden.
A problem most of the young bands struggle with. How hard is it to run a band when you can't do it full time?
It depends on your expectations. I know by now that we won't have any major break-through ala Ghost or similar, but as long as we can keep writing music and do a few tours now and then I will be satisfied. It is not important to make a living out of it. The important thing is the source of inspiration which must be there if it should be worthwhile to continue, and that fire will burn until all is gone.
What are some of your favourite metal albums released in the last few months?
I love the new Ram album "Rod" and the Pagan Altar album is great as well. I have ordered the new Feinstein album that I look very much forward to but I have not heard it yet. Same thing with the new Black Hole (Italy) album. Stillborn and Procession have done great albums too lately, but I was a bit disappointed with the latest Accept album. To me the "Blind Rage" album was the best one since "Russian Roulette", but the new one was not even half as good.
I've read somewhere you have a rehearsal room in the former pigsty, haha! Is that true?
Yes, it is true. It's on our drummer's yard and he re-built it of course. We got tired of renting places as we got kicked out of the last one we had, and the one before that started to crack literally, there were 2cm wide cracks through the walls so that building has probably collapsed by now.
You've mentioned you're doing the European tour with Ram, who have been to the UK just a few months back. Last time we saw you here was at the beginning of 2015 I think. Do you have any plans to tour the UK in support of "Burn the World"?
We have no concrete plans or offers about it at the moment, but we had a great time there in 2015 so any interested promoters should get in touch!
Are you doing any Summer festivals in Europe next year?
Yes, I think we have three or four booked by now and hopefully there will be more of course.
At the end please recommend "Burn the World" to people who have not bought their copies yet...
You should buy the vinyl version. If you have shitty taste and don't like the music you will at least have a nice poster included to put on your wall. I have also heard that if you collect all different vinyl colours your ascent to paradise after death will be guaranteed.