Meet Portrait – a band rising from the metal soil of Sweden, armed with a strong foothold in classic metal of the 70/80’s, powerful lyrical visions and a die-hard will to engulf the metal world with their thunderous heavy metal darkness. Guitarist Christian Lindell stopped at the Steel Mill and gives you a proper introduction:
Kassu: Hello Christian and welcome to Steel Mill’s Metal Grinder. Let’s start from the basics. Could you first give a short summary about the band’s origins? How did the entity now known as PORTRAIT came to existence?
Christian: The birth of PORTRAIT, as with everything else regarding us, is kind of dim, but Anders (drums) and I have been playing together in different bands since a very young age, and at one point (in 2002 I believe) I came up with a heavy metal song which I named ”Black Hole of Doom”and we tried it out in the rehearsal place a couple of times. Back then I had access to a recording studio at the school which I attended, and I recorded the song together my friend Martin. When the vocals was to be done both me and Martin tried to lay them down, and as Martin knew Philip (former PORTRAIT singer) he was also in the studio, and I believe that he also tried to record the vocals. This was probably the point when I realised that Philip was actually a good singer.
Some years later Anders and I decided we’d focus on playing dark heavy metal. When we had a couple of songs ready we called in Philip to the rehearsal place and tried him out. We thought it sounded great and from there we went on. I knew David (bass) was interested in joining the band from the start so he also started to show up at the rehearsals. A few weeks later Richard moved down to our hometown Kristianstad from Linköping where he was born, and after a few beers at the local pub we decided that he should join the band. This showed out to be a great achievement, as he simply is one of the best musicians I have ever met and has taken a large roll in the composing part ever since.
We recorded a 3-song demo ”Welcome To My Funeral” in 2006 which caught the attention of Iron Kodex Records (formerly New Iron Age Records) who wanted to release a 7” (”Into The Nothingness/His Glowing Eyes”) which was well-received in the metal underground and led to the recording and release of our self-titled debut album, released in April 2008.
Nowadays Sweden is one of the most productive countries when talking about new metal bands breaking through. So the swedish soil obviously has been a good place for metal to grow. But though it seems that most rising swedish metal groups have lately been concentrating on styles like melodeath, more progressive or basic power metal, PORTRAIT’s sound harks back to the traditional metal of, say, early eighties. Was the choice of this direction clear from the start and what reasons were there behind this choice?
Well, there’s really only one reason for this and that is the fact that the metal forged in the beginning of the 80’s is a much stronger influence on me personally, than say 90’s death/black metal. I do identify with many of the lyrical/ideological aspects of black and death metal (or what many acts are pretending to preach anyway), but musically it seldom comes close to the titans of the 70’s/80’s. There are some good releases still of course, but the ”classics” of later days which stands up to the metal of olde I could probably count on my left hand. We want to aim for the highest, and thus the direction we had to take was very clear from the start.
Talking a bit more about the ‘classic metal’ roots of PORTRAIT… one can easily pick up some comparison points to various legendary metal groups but there’s enough personality in PORTRAIT’s music to keep things fresh making the band sound like sort of turbo-boosted NWOBHM. What do you think are the biggest influences and inspiration points to the bands music?
Personally I would probably be fine with just Judas Priest as a musical influence, but there are some others as well of course. The big ones like Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Rainbow… But also bands that tried their best to play as hard as possible back in the beginning of the 80’s, resulting in bands like Satan (UK), Mercyful Fate of course, etc.
Since we’re at the Steel Mill – it suits well to bring up the fact that you are a huge fan of Judas Priest. Another band that I’m sure has had a big influence on PORTRAIT’s music? And on personal level, your guitar playing too? One can hear some very cool Priest-like moments on the new album.
Of course! They are by far the biggest influence on me personally. Apart from making the best music ever and simply being the coolest band in the world, something I really admire about them is that they aren’t afraid of trying out new things that may not be completely ”orthodox” from the average headbangers’ point of view. I don’t sit down and try to copy Priest riffs or structures, they are on the other way around inspiring me to be creative and come up with original ideas myself. But of course I am VERY glad if some parts of our album remind you of Priest. That simply cannot be anything else than a great compliment.
We touched this earlier, but to delve in a bit deeper – having a strong backbone of traditional sounding heavy metal, one needs to add a sufficient amount of fresh ideas to songwriting to avoid the danger of rewriting songs already done back in the eighties. What would you say is the thing in PORTRAIT that separates it from the other bands of the same genre?
On the topic of re-writing songs I just have to mention one of the first times I met Anders. We went to the same school and the same music class, and he told me about this riff he had come up with, which he kind of recognized but could not really identify. He played it to me, and it was the main riff of ”Eye of The Tiger”…
I don’t know about other bands really, but I don’t think that many of those new ”old school” acts plan to do more than say two albums. After 20+ songs of retro-party-cliché-metal they will probably lay it all to rest and retire. I think that Portrait, although having our roots in old metal music, are ready explore many sides of this art and that we have the possibility to go in many different directions. Only time will prove that I’m right…
The comments and reviews of it have been very positive all in all, dare I say. Both when it comes to underground scriptures and bigger magazines like Sweden Rock Magazine and Terrorizer for example. The first pressing of it is sold out as we speak and a second one is at hand, so I suppose we are satisfied with it’s success, despite the lack of world tour offerings…
There’s a lot of fine moments on the album, steaming riffs, nice solos and tight-grabbing melodies. Tell me something about the songwriting process of PORTRAIT, how do you forge the raw ideas to complete songs?
With the album, and up until it was recorded, the songs were written very individually by me and Richard. The one of us who wrote a song made all structures, riffs etc in their entirety before presenting the songs at our rehearsal place. Then stuff such as song melodies and some harmony stuff were added and tried out in different ways, and Anders always has lots of drum rhythms to try out to a riff before we decide what suits the overall feeling best. The process with the material we are currently writing is somewhat different though. If someone has a few riffs he wants to try out then everyone is involved in what possible ways there are to continue the songs etc. It works out good thus far I must say!
The album bears a strong brand of dark and sinister thematics throughout it’s length making it almost a conceptual piece. This is also presented in the lyrics that summon forth hellish images of nightmares and terror, as in the apocalyptic visions in ‘Bow Unto The Devil’ or a nod to the black arts in ‘Consecration’. When listening to the lyrics, it’s apparent that they’re not just some clichéed old material, but a lot of thought has been put into them. Where did you draw the lyrical inspiration to the songs from?
The inspiration is drawn from our point of viewing life and death and what may lie beyond. We are very serious about it and it is an important aspect of the whole.
If you’re in for a penny you gotta be in for a pound.
News from PORTRAIT camp state that you have parted ways with your lead singer and the search for the new vocalist is going on. Any progress on that task?.
Yes, we parted ways due unsolvable musical and personal differences. We have not found a replacement yet, but there is some progress. We have a few interesting ones that are about to lay down their own vocals on top of instrumental recordings of some of our songs. If anyone reading this would be interested, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Your previous singer Philip’s voice formed a very prominent part of the new PORTRAIT album being so strikingly similar to King Diamond’s style. I’m interested to know was it an intentional move by the band to have this much King-like vocals for their music or just Philip’s way of singing? The fiery twin-guitar foundation will most likely remain as a cornerstone of band’s music, but what do you think the change of vocalist will bring to PORTRAIT’s sound? More the same or a move to a different direction?
Hmm, I think it was Philip’s own way of singing which resulted in these comparisons.
It’s hard to tell if a new singer will take us in a different direction, but I don’t think so. Of course the singing will be different as we absolutely not are looking for a copycat. The important thing is that the singer will have a unique voice and is able reach some high notes. I think the essence in good singing often lies in good melodies and not in the actual voice of the singer, and Philip did not write many of the vocal melodies himself, so…
PORTRAIT live gigs have apparently been quite succesful as well? At least judging by the pictures and comments on the internet the band’s been very well received. Apart from your home turf, you’ve played gigs in places like Germany, Greece, Finland, Norway and Holland. For a new band, getting gigs must be a challenge at first, but looking at your schedule looks like you’re doing quite well on that section too?.
Yes, we have had quite a lot of organizers asking us to come and play and the gigs have mostly been successful ones, especially in Germany, France and at Sweden Rock Festival. You have to start in the pay-to-play division to get anywhere, we have learned. I’d love to travel ‘round the country in a transit in the middle of the winter, freezing my ass off only to play at small pubs in front of three locals and their dogs each and every night, earning enough to stay alive.
Rock’n Roll road stories make always interesting reading. Any strange or funny events that have happened to PORTRAIT lately?
Hehe, there are lots of them. The day after our latest gig in France we woke up, of course blessed with the strongest of hangovers, and we were about to be picked up by the organizer who would drive us back to the airport. At first, David asks the other of us where the hell his bass has gone. No-one knows, but we put our trust in the organizer bringing it from the gig place, where David must have forgotten it.
The organizer shows up, telling us that he had not seen any bass left at the venue. We also ask him about our merchandise which he sold for us at the gig, but he says that he gave all merchandise that was left to David the day before. At this point Richard spits on his own foot in despair. David goes back into the hotel and checks his room and comes back with both the bass and the bag of merchandise. He had forgotten to look there earlier. When at the airport we realize we must have forgotten our backdrop at the venue, and this we were actually right about. So the organizer had to send it in a big package to us the week after. And when opening his hardcase at home, Richard finds his guitar broken, probably destroyed during the flight. The glamour is eternal.
What can we expect from PORTAIT in the future? You have some gigs lined up, and probably also busy writing new material?
Yes, we have some gigs this autumn in Germany, Finland (hope I’ll meet you there!), Holland and probably also Denmark. Those gigs will be done with Philip on vocals, and after that we will focus on getting the new material complete and find a new singer.
So, when a regular metal fan sees the local pub or festival having PORTRAIT playing, what can you promise him to expect from the gig?
A night of undead metal madness, lots of beer and blood and everything else the regular metal fan could ever think of!
Alright, I guess that’s a good set of questions to introduce PORTRAIT to the Steel Mill readers. Anything else you want to say to people reading this?
I’d like to say hi to K.K.! Thanks for everything so far and I hope it’s all just getting started.
See you on the road!
Thank you and stay heavy!