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Wednesday 1 September 2021

Reviews: Portrait, Venues, Doctor Smoke, Kal-El, (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Zak Skane)

Portrait - At One With None (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Over 15 years in the business and Swedes Portrait continue to throw out high quality heavy metal. Album number five At One With None continues with the same intensity as 2017’s highly regarded Burn The World but manages to throw in a few twists and turns that will engage and delight longer term fans as well as draw in more than a few new listeners. Whilst the band’s sound has always edged around the classic heavy metal flavours, there are many additional colours in the mix, which ensures that Portrait have a unique style, easily identifiable. Their blend of old school metal, elements of thrash and the inevitable theatrics that Per Lengstedt’s incredible vocal range provide makes them irresistible. 

At 52 minutes in length, this is no throwaway record. Several tracks are quite lengthy, and it takes some balls to open your album with a seven-minute piece but that’s what the Swedes have managed with some panache. Standing proud in the centre of the album is the masterpiece of the record, the nine-minute epic Ashen. The song demonstrates the band’s ability to craft legendary pieces of art, with the intricate guitar intro leading to a thumping metal track which almost demands you don your denim and leather, form a circle, and bang your head.

Having cut the track list from 11 down to a more manageable eight (we’d have been looking at a double album otherwise), the album’s lyrical themes all focus on aspects of spirituality in different forms. Asking questions is important in any context and here is no exception as Portrait challenge not only religion and philosophy but the herd mentality of society (Phantom Fathomer). At One With None is a classy record. Full of fist pumping riffs thanks to guitarist Chris Lindell, and a thunderously tight rhythm section of bassist Fredrik Petersson and drummer Anders Persson, these three musicians provide Lengstedt free rain to bring the good which he does on every level. Blessed with a cracking quality production, Portrait have released an album that should be on everyone’s playlist by the end of 2021. 9/10

Venues – Solace (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

Solace welcomes Venues’s victorious return by introducing us with two members Lela on vocals and Valentin on guitar to the band. With the band venturing into the studio with Annisokay member Christoph Wieczorek during August 2020 to record their more metallic follow up from their debut Aspire (2019). From the first track (Razor Blade Teeth) ambient piano that instantly leads us into bands heavy chugging guitars that are provided by Constantin and Valentin which are backed by ambient backing tracks. When the ripping harsh vocals of Robin combined with Lelas soaring choruses it really give the listener a bombastic introduction of what this album bring us. 

After the punch in the face that Razor Blade Teeth gives us its momentum is followed up by the high tempo Whydah Galley, the band shows us their great arrangement skills with Rite Of Passage with songs starting off with synth style stutter choirs before the band with a bouncy groove that I can make their crowd bounce, when the chorus comes its up lifted with orchestral strings to make it sound uplifting. After Rite Of Passage, Uncaged Birds shows of the bands more dynamic side with introducing more clean guitar tones and breaking up the harsh/clean vocal pattern by starting off with Lela starting off the song. 

When it comes to the second half of the album you start to hear the band mixing genres with tracks like Down Below and Shifting Colours but it then it in the last three songs; Our Destiny, Deceptive Faces and Mountains you get to hear Lela take centre stage and hear the show their more song writer side. In conclusion this is a good listen the chemistry and the song writing sound great with the new line up, the vocal trade offs between the two vocalists and the productions sounds greats gives the songs justice credit to Christoph Wieczorek. The only criticism I would say is that in the first listen the song structures can be a bit repetitive, overall 8/10

Doctor Smoke – Dreamers And The Dead (Ripple Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Seven years since debut The Witching Hour, Ohio occult doom outfit Doctor Smoke return with a storming sophomore record that sees the band’s blend of styles and gorgeously infectious melodies. Classic metal underpins the soundscapes that Doctor Smoke carve out in ten solid tracks, and they add in elements of occult, stoner riffs galore and ample hooks that snag, tear and don’t let go. Founded in 2012, the band's current line-up consists of vocalist/guitarist Matt Tluchowski along with Steve Lehocky on lead guitar, Jeff Young on bass, and Cody Cooke on drums. 

Opening with Reborn Into Darkness, which seems to be a position statement, Dreamers And The Dead conjures up the bastard offspring of Ghost and Green Lung, albeit with much more of the latter outfit’s grit and less of the light flamboyance of the nameless ghouls. Tluchowski’s clean and sweet vocals work well, his clear style supported by harmonies that rarely overstep the mark. Musically the band work neatly, with the freedom and fluidity of Lehocky’s lead guitar work enhanced by the tight rhythmic coherence of Cooke’s solid drumming and Young’s unearthly bass lines. 

Songs such as Out Of Time are surely destined to become fan favourites, such is the panache that it is delivered. These are songs that linger long in the memory and as such, Dreamers and the Dead deserves your attention. 8/10

Kal-El- Dark Majesty (Majestic Mountain Records) [Zak Skane]

Kal-El are a Norwegian interstellar galactic stoner metal unit formed in 2012, since their formation the band have released four albums Pakal (2012), Ecosphere (2015), Astrodoomeda (2017) and 2020’s Witches Of Mars. Now in 2021 the band has released their heaviest album to date Dark Majesty on their current record label Majestic Mountain Records. When it comes to stoner/desert rock/metal I am usually hit or miss with it, but when the opening track Temple came in with this exotic scale riff that reminds me off Kyuss I knew I was in for an enjoyable experience. 

When distorted riffs kicked in I was hypnotised whilst the drums provided that tribal low end, with the guitars and bass providing nice wall of sound. When the next track Spiral kicks in, the band take the tempo up a notch showing they still provide an up-beat feel to their sound. The third track Mica shows off the bands musician ship with the drummer providing some powerful drum fills and some precise ghost note driven beats to match the dynamics of the song. With Mica you also get hear the bands chemistry as songwriters as well. 

The band carries this momentum this tracks like the title track Dark Majesty and Cometa until the band gives us a progressive finally with track Kala Mishaa and Vimana. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable listen band paid homage to their space rock/desert rock/metal influences (Kyuss, Black Sabbath and Monster Magnet) tastefully but also keeping them sounding unique. I’m giving this a 7/10

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