A late evening in 2007, a Saturday I believe, and as dark as only a late November-evening can be here in Norway. Portrait has entered a small stage in Oslo to perform tracks off their demo “Welcome To My Funeral”, their seven inch “Into Nothingness” and a couple of tasters off what is gonna become their first full lenght, released in about half a year’s time. Even though there is clearly some potential to be heard, the peformance leaves a lot to be desired, both vocally as well as instrumentally. I catch myself thinking that a lot of work and some member changes will need to happen before the band is ready for the next step. An evening, six and a half years later (the darkness is still there, if you wonder), one of two surviving members from that pitch black November night, the guitarist Christian Lindell gives me a call to talk about Portrait’s brand new, third album, “Crossroads”.
According to the information that followed my promo, you have said that “Crossroads is “the most important album up to date in so many ways…” Please explain!
– The main reason is that the lyrics are so personal to me this time. It was a greater importance than ever before that the album turned out as great as possible. I also think that this old school heavy metal trend is somewhat fading away, so this is our chance to really underline that Portrait is not affected by such trends or waves. Our music stands strong even though some other bands would disappear. That’s pretty much it, I think.
Are the lyrics personal in a different way than on your previous albums?
– They are to a larger extent than before based on my own experiences and insights.I am more experienced now and more convinced about things, like what is right for me and what is wrong, so yeah, things have been taken to another level this time around.
So the added personal touch is not due to one particular experience, but more like a result of a process inside of you?
– Yeah, exactly.
What do you mean when you say that you feel the heavy metal trend is fading away?
– I think it’s mostly the coverage of it. This retro seventies rock seems to be very much in demand at the moment. There are some bands that started out getting a lot of publicity right away, that seem to be going away right now. To be honest, I am not sure about this, maybe it’s more of a feeling that have. Nevertheless, it’s time to prove that this kind of music has never been gone. Look at bands like Saxon, Anvil, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. These acts performed this type of music through the nineties as well even though the media focused on many other genres by that time. However, all these bands survived and did some really good music in this period too.
You have also said that “Portrait has finally become what I have always wanted the band to be…” What has been missing earlier?
– I never felt that something has been missing, it’s been more the fact that there have been uncertainties related to the band for most of the time. And uncertainties regarding the lineup mainly. We’ve had member changes here and there, and I have never been as certain about a lineup that I am now. It also has to do with our own development and our own sound. We have always strived for some sort of perfection to define what Portrait is, and what our role is. I think we are closer to that now than ever before, even though this search of course will continue throughout our career.
With you being there as some kind of main man through all these years, I guess the vision for the band has remained pretty much the same. At the same time, so frequent member changes must influence the sound in one way or another?
– Yeah, of course it does. There have been many members coming and going, but mostly two changes that I think affected the sound of the band. From the start it’s been me and Richard Lagergren writing the music. That was the way it was, until he quit the band. The first lineup change that affected the sound was of course the change of singer from Philip Svennefelt to Per (Karlsson, now Lengstedt), and the second one was when Richard quit the band. Me and Richard had quite a common view on how the band should sound, but had a bit of different influences which we combined rather well. We learned pretty much from each other. The new album might have sounded different if Richard was still in the band, but I am satisfied how things turned out.
Richard wrote a lot of the music on “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae”. Is everything on “Crossroads” done by yourself?
– Not really. Our new bassist Cab (Castervall) wrote the song “Ageless Rites”, while me and him wrote the intro, “Liberation” together. The rest of the songs I made most of the music for, although every member of the band has been a lot more involved in the arrangements than previously. Per, our singer, has also been more involved with the vocal melodies than before. All this is also related to your earlier question, about the band I wanted Portrait to be. There is a lot more dedication now than before.
Are you okay with writing more stuff again?
– Yeah, absolutely. I am very inspired at the moment, so I don’t have any problems with that. The writing process is my favourite part of being in a band anyway. Hearing the final whistle and playing live is great as well, and to record is by far the worst thing.
With yourself stepping up to the plate, it seems like replacing Richard as a songwriter went quite smooth then. Was it as easy replacing him as a guitarist?
– It was never really a question of whether that would be possible, because we knew that David (Olofsson) who is now playing the guitar, he was playing the bass earlier, was a really great guitarist. Technically he is better than me, and while it’s hard to compare with others…Well you know what I mean…So yeah, the songwriting could have been a bigger problem than the technical part.
When Richard left the band, you had to issue a statement underlining the fact that Portrait wasn’t dead. Why was that necessary?
– Some things happened there. To be honest, don’t really like to go into details about the matter, because they’re mostly quite personal. It doesn’t really make sense to do so, because there are always two versions of everything. However, the whole thing started when I met an old friend in town, who thought Portrait was dead because Richard had quit the band. The thing was that we wanted to wait a while, and announce his departure when we had decided upon a new lineup, but apparently Richard had written on Facebook or whatever it was, that he was no longer a member of the band. The thing had already been online for some days, and that was when and why those rumors started. It was mainly between common friends, but with the statment I wanted to make sure that there were no other people believing the thing.
Is it important whether Richard was fired from the band or if he quit the band himself?
– No, not really, but different versions exist.
But he didn’t leave on friendly terms?
– No, he didn’t, but we have solved most of the problems since them. We met every now and then, he lives in another town now, so it’s not very often, but we speak and have a good time together. I guess I could say that we are on good terms now, and he also seems to be satisfied with the current situation.
You mentioned that you and Richard had some different influences. Were there some tension related to the musical direction of the band?
– No! There was nothing like that really. We had quite the same vision for our sound.
Do you think this thing hurt the band in anyway, or was it all for the better?
– According to me it was definitely for the better. Before it happened, things were very turbulent, and I didn’t really have any inspiration to create new music for quite a while. When we finally took care of things, and started rehearsing with the new lineup, things were working very well. So for me personally, it was a positive thing, but I can understand if people think that the band seems to be quite unstable. It’s hard to convince people that the lineup we have now is more stable. You never know of course, but at the moment it feels like this lineup will last.
As you mentioned, David was recruited as a bass player, why did he convert to guitar?
– The first reason was that it’s more natural for him to play the guitar. He is a guitarist, and there are already way too many bands having a guitarist playing bass instead of a real bassist. Also, we knew we would not find a suitable member in our hometown. And it was a good thing to be able to rehearse as often as possible with two guitarists, because in our music, there are many details between the guitarists that have to fit together. With this in mind, it is easier to have a bassist from another town that isn’t maybe present on every rehearsal.
With so many members coming and going, I have to ask if you are a difficult person to work with.
– No, I am not! The problem, I guess, is that everyone have different priorities in life. At least this has been the most frequent reason for all the lineup-changes in Portrait. Most parts of the band did, or did not, want to do something in a particular way, but one person didn’t share the same opinion. In most cases it has come down to a lack of dedication.
And your own priority has always been Portrait?
– Yeah! It has.
But as you said yourself, you lost a bit of your inspiration for a while…
-Yeah, but that was mostly because it was really hard to see a bright future for the band at some point there. I guess such periods come and go, but that was a pretty long period there where I was pretty uncertain.
Did you consider putting the band on ice?
– No, I never really got that far. It was more the case of constantly having to deal with other things concerning the band, and everytime only the boring parts. You know, stuff like keeping things together, organizing stuff or keeping track of everyone like a fucking parent. It took a lot of energy.
With all the lineup-trouble in mind, are you doing a better research than before when you are looking for new members nowadays?
– Yeah, maybe. But this time around I knew Cab since many years ago, and didn’t have to do any research. He is a good musician and a big metal fan who knows our songs very well. Sometimes when I met him, he was really going into details about some of our songs. He could say things like: “You know that harmony thing in the middle of that song, it is so fucking beautiful after that riff”. I knew that he had this kind of sense for music. And of course it didn’t hurt that he was in the band Hypnosia earlier. Every time I met him, from ten years back up until two years ago, I asked him if he would resurrect Hypnosia or if he had any other plans. He was like: “No, I don’t really want to start a band again”. He seemed really not interested, but I thought I should ask him anyway. So when Cab said yes to join Portrait, I knew he wanted it for real. He has since proven that by being very dedicated in everything from the music to the rehearsals, the layout and the artwork. He definitely seems like the right choice.
Hypnosia is quite different from Portrait, but he had no problems adjusting to your style?
– No, and as Cab says himself, he has always been a heavy metal fan. It has always been his favourite kind of music, but he has never thought of playing the style himself. It reminded me of my own experience as I had the same kind of fortune in the beginning, since my first band was a thrash/black metal kind of thing. My favourite music has always been heavy metal too, but back then it felt like an impossible task back to find a fitting singer for instance.
I was reading through two earlier interviews I did with you for Scream today, and found an intersting quote: You once said to me that you are not out to please the listener that wants instant satisfaction. What is the reward for the patient listener of “Crossroads”?
– There are many things to discover there, especially when you combine the music with the lyrics. I think, as with pretty much my own favourite albums, that doesn’t hit you straight from the first listens, but have to grow a bit…
Like for instance?
– To take the obvious one, “Don’t Break The Oath” by Mercyful Fate, or others as well, like the Masters Hammer-albums and such things, that demands some focus from the listener. For me it comes quite natural to write music in that way, because both with the last one as well as the new album, I always think of the songs as pretty straight forward ones. I guess some of it has to do with the fact that you have a different relation to them when you have written them and rehearsed them for ages. Of course you know them by heart then. For the listener there should be lots of things to discover.
Speaking a little about the title of the album, “Crossroads”, at first I related it to the fact that we spoke about to begin with, that see this third album as the most important one so far.
– The title was not intended to be autobiographical. In fact, we decided upon the title some months after our last album was released. It’s been in the planning for long, but it could be seen as that I suppose, especially with this latest lineup change for instance. We have moved ahead, moved on and succeed in taking things to another level. It could be seen as that, but to be honest, it’s more related to the lyrical side of things. …Places or the living and the interaction with the unseen forces of the world. That was more the meaning from the beginning.
You have recorded at Necromorbus again, but I read somewhere that you planned to record at least some demos somewhere else this time.
– We actually recorded a preproduction, a demo in Studio Misantropen, which is our former singer, Phillip’s studio. The idea was to try the studio because I wanted to record the album somewhere that is closer to home than Stockholm and Necromorbus. We actually recorded the guitars and bass in Phillip’s studio and the thing was mixed and mastered in Necromorbus.
You never considered doing everything in Phillip’s studio?
– No, we didn’t. Simply because when we recorded the last album, we had so many good things coming from Tore at Necromorbus. He has a lot of visions and suggestions. We need a guy like that, who really manifest things. We can only say: “We want this album to sound like a mix between “Melissa” and “Defenders Of The Faith”, but we don’t have a clue how to do that. So we wanted to involve him again.
Was there something you specifically wanted to improve on the last album?
– I haven’t really had any conscious intention of improving any specific parts actually. I think it would be limiting to think like that, for somehow music has to come from the heart and soul without any preset limits. As few frames as possible really is probably the best, but I think the new one turned out…obviously most of the songs are shorter than on the last album. When I listen to the last one now, I somehow feel that some parts could have been shortened. So the thought of improvement in that area might have been there unconsciously.
I have only been able to listen to “Crossroads” a couple of times so far, but earlier today I tried to compare the sound to the one on “Crimen…” I am not sure how to put it, but things sound a bit more relaxed this time around. The last one also seemed more metallic through and through, and the vocals are definitely not as upfront this time.
– I think I know what you mean. Especially with the vocal melodies, this time they are more written from our singer’s perspecitive. The relaxed part I think is because he uses a lot of different voices, but he is more dynamic. He doesn’t sing high all the time, and then it gets more powerful when he actually does that. For the instrumental side of things, I also see what you mean. More relaxed? Yeah, maybe. I can’t really explain it, but maybe it was a bit like North Korea on the last album.
On the internet, some people are saying hat the vocals on the first taster “In Time” is a little too low…
– I don’t agree with them, and I have listened to the album so many times now in different mixes. We really had to push Tore, because he had another idea with the vocals being even lower than they are now. A few times, during different mixes, we told him to put the vocals more in front. We were all satisfied with this final version of the album, and we still are. I hope that we haven’t hurt our ears or something during the process. Do you think the vocals are too low?
In fact, I think they were a bit too dominating on the last album, so for me it works rather well on the new one. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the album, but I will have to listen more to it to be perfectly sure what I think about the vocals.
“In Time” was the first taster from “Crossroads”. Is it representative, you think?
– Yeah, I think so. It’s pretty straight forward as many of the songs on the album are. It’s one of the faster ones, but there are different parts in it and changes of themes, and I think it’s representative. Still there are lots of dimensions to the albums as well, because “In Time” is one of the most aggressive ones, both musically and lyrically.
Already while listening to the intro, I got the impression that this album would be a bit different from the last one which started with a bang…This time things start out a bit slower.
– One thing I had an idea about after the last album, was that since we have had two albums in a row now starting with a fast song, I wanted to do something more similar to the “Headless Cross”-album by Black Sabbath this time. I was really looking to have a song like that as the opener, and “At The Ghost Gate” was the song sounding most like “Headless Cross”. I wouldn’t call the song a prolonged intro, but it certainly builds up step by step instead of attacking directly.Our main intention, didn’t really have that much to do with the intro, but we wanted to come up with something different for the first real song.
I just spoke to the doom metal-band Below, and apparently it’s “allowed” to like those Sabbath-albums with Tony Martin nowadays?
– Yeah, it is. “Headless Cross” was one of the last Black Sabbath-albums I bought actually. And I enjoy it a lot.
All of your three albums have closed with a nine minute plus song. I guess we now can call it a tradition?
– Yeah! I guess so. I like the dramaturgy of doing that. Also this time around, the ending of the song “Lily” connects with the intro to the album, so the circle is complete. It fits perfectly.
Are these long songs something you need to do, something you need to get out of your system each time?
– Yeah, I think we will always have a long tune on every album. I enjoy writing those. It’s important to have the dynamic parts and the versatility. To have a complete album you need one of those tracks.
You have already been in the studio recording something since “Crossroads” was recorded. Is it still a secret what you did there?
– Not anymore. It’s a song we did for a CD-single for Sweden Rock Magazine, out in the end of April. It’s a cover of the unreleased Judas Priest-song, “Mother Sun”, a song from the seventies which they never recorded on an album. It’s somewhat different from what we usually do, it’s more of a ballad type of song, long, epic seventies Priest-song. If Portrait ever would write a ballad, it would sound something like this. It’s pretty dark with lots of guitar things going on. Our singer really had to use his entire register, and it was a nice challenge for the rest of the band as well.
Portrait is a really good band that emulates the traditional Mercyful Fate sound quite well. I’m a huge fan of King Diamond’s music, so listening to this band feels like a new experience all over again. Of course, they do make it clear that they’re worshiping their main influence, but you don’t need to be innovative to be good!