REVIEW: PORTRAIT – THE HOST (2024)

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Way back in February 2015, I saw Sweden’s Portrait play a show – appropriately enough, about two miles from where Black Sabbath invented heavy metal – and after mentioning the “Gallops, solos, screams, high pitched singing” and suggesting they were intent on “summoning the Dark Lord from on low”, I wrote this as a conclusion: “Every so often some clown likes to tell you metal is dead and what survives must be fragmented into sub-genres no one understands. Nights like tonight take that idea and shove it where the studded belts don’t shine. Metal is dead? Not a chance in hell!”

Fast forward getting on for a decade and all of that still applies.

Their sixth album in almost 20 years, “The Host” is essentially what people who don’t like metal think metal sounds like all the time.

“The Blood Covenant” proves that. “All my life,” spits Per Lengstedt “I have swallowed the lies of the church” and that’s before Karl Gustafsson (who has joined Christian Lindell on guitar for the first time here) has slashed the solo into all kinds of pieces.

If “proper” metal (and I don’t mean the likes of Manowar wittering on about swords) is your bag, then no one does it as well as Portrait. “The Sacrament” is fast and furious, “Oneiric Visions” is built on a primal rumble of co-founder Anders Persson’s drums, and if “One Last Kiss” changes the pace, then it manages the neat trick of sounding more like Iron Maiden than Eddie and the lads do. Indeed, instead of having the usual raft of awful support bands they pick, it’d be great to see Portrait on that type of bill.

By any modern standards “The Host” is a lengthy album (perhaps because it doesn’t sound like a modern album) but the quality rarely dips. Instead, “Treachery” and the even better thrash masterclass “Sound The Horn” are wonderful things.

This is nothing more and nothing less than a study on how to do a metal album right. “Dweller Of The Threshold”, the groove of “Die In My Heart”, where the vocals are rougher (at least initially), and the heavier “Voice of The Outsider” are all mighty things.

You picture these boys permanently leather-clad, living in a house with black painted walls and their house lit with candles. That’s the vibe given off by “From The Urn” or “Men Of Renown”, and if things get a bit “Battle Metal” with the bluster of “Sword Of Reason”, then the true skill of Portrait is shown by the last one.

“The Passions Of Sophia” – all 11 and a half minutes of it – only gets made if you are a brilliant band on top of your game.

Portrait, throughout shifting times, shifting line ups and everything else that goes along with a 20-year career, have never made a bad record. It could, however, be reasonably argued that “The Host” is the absolute best of a brilliant canon.

Rating 9/10

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