After “Crossroads”, which we covered thoroughly when it was released back in April 2014, Sweden’s Portrait is back with yet another album filled with dark heavy metal. The big thing this time, is probably the fact that “Burn The World” was recorded as a trio, with my interview partner, Christian Lindell handling the bass along with his main instrument, guitars.
Let’s go a bit back in time, Christian. I remember buying both the demo and the first single when they both were released, and I recently saw your demo tape shifting hands for big bucks on Ebay. How do you view those early releases?
– I like all of our releases, but in different ways. I see a certain development of course, comparing the early stuff to the newest album. That’s the way it should be really, and all the releases are representative of what the band was at the time they were recorded. But then there are clearly things that we think about and that should have been done differently, both production wise, performance wise and arrangement wise. However, we reduce those things for each release. There is not a past release I am ashamed of or anything like that.
You did a split release with fellow Swedes RAM after “Crossroads” was released. This release featured one brand new track in the form of “Martial Lead”. Was this a leftover from “Crossroads”, or a song that was written with this particular release in mind?
– It was a new song, written specifically for the album. Some of the stuff in that song was quite old though, a few of the riffs we already had before “Crossroads”, but in general the song was finished specifically for the split release.
The whole process of delivering just one song must be quite different compared to when you do songwriting with a full album in mind?
– Yes, in some ways it is. For an album, we don’t really plan things too much, but it’s a much longer process of course. We don’t really plan what kind of songs we want on an album, but you kind of feel when you have covered all the aspects you want to cover for the release. That’s when you start to record the thing. With only one song about to be recorded, I give a bit more thought to it. After all, it’s going to be one song that represents the band, and especially on a release like “Under Command”, where the rest of the songs were covers. The most important thing is that it’s good and hard hitting track. Doing only one song, is also relaxed in a way, its not like it would be the end of everything if you did a song a little below your usual level for such a release. I like doing those small releases, we should definitely do more things like that between our albums.
I remember asking Oscar from RAM why they chose the Potrait-track they did for this release, why did you pick “Blessed To Be Cursed” from RAM?
– We wanted to choose a song that we could do something of our own with. We did the track a bit more uptempo than the original version. I like all RAM-releases myself, but I think they have become even better with the later albums. There was really nothing I wanted to change on those releases, and probably nothing I wanted the band to change in “Blessed To Be Cursed” either, but we just had the idea to do this particular track a bit differently.
According to Christian it wasn’t important to find a song that suited Portrait lyrically…
– Not really. Then we would rather have done one of their later songs. The lyrics to the song are great too, but it wasn’t really that important. Anyway it’s a cover song, and the most important thing was to get the right kind of atmosphere and make a Portrait-version of it.
For this particular release, you also did a cover of Exciter, but not one of the tracks from “Heavy Metal Maniac” or “Violence And Force”, as most bands would do. The track in question is “Aggressor” from “The Dark Command”, released in 1997.
– We picked this tune because it’s fucking great! Another reason is that I think that bands like Exciter who did music sounding that way in the nineties, and kept doing their own thing, deserves a lot of respect. We wanted to shed some light upon that era of Exciter and show our gratitude for it. The song really unleashes the beast inside you, and is a piece of barbaric metal of the highest order.
Nice one! A lot of people forget about the nineties, but there were a lot of bands churning out more than respectable releases containing nothing but pure heavy metal.
– The way I see it, heavy metal has always, since it’s birth, been relevant to those who understand the genre. But then during some eras, mainstream media and followers have chosen to focus on other things, and it has affected the metal bands economically. Still metal has been relevant to everyone involved. When all of a sudden, heavy metal became popular in more mainstream circles again after the millennium shift, everything which had the core of heavy metal was suddenly labelled as old school.
There are lots of releases from the nineties that deserve as much credit as the stuff from the eighties that everyone is raving about.
– Yeah, I totally agree. Bands like Running Wild, Anvil, Grave Digger, Udo, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond all released some great albums.
I knew King Diamond well from before, but really got into Mercyful Fate with the “In The Shadows”-album.
– Yeah, I can imagine quite a few people doing that. The album is in the very same class as the early stuff. A really good one!
Now that the band is like 12 years into your career, are you were you hoped to be when you started Portrait, or have you long surpassed that point?
– I think we have gone far beyond what I could have imagined. When we started the band, we didn’t know that this kind of dark heavy metal was so popular. I didn’t have any expectations of people from abroad wanting to listen to our stuff, or to get a chance to play outside our hometown. So if you talk about the expectations we had in the beginning, we have passed them, but of course your expectations grow with every release. Sometimes you think that an album will grant you a lot of touring, or the stuff you want to do, but often there has been some hassle, that has set some blocks in our way, and you end up disappointed. That’s the way it is, and when it happens, we just have to keep on going. We don’t do this to become rich or anything, but of course we want to do some proper touring. That’s the thing I feel nowadays that we should have done more of, but I hope things can still change.
I saw you in Oslo at a very early stage (pun intended) in your career, then at HOA and KIT a bit later on…As it seems you haven’t really been that active on the live front lately, have the offers been few or far between, or have you not been able to accept what has been brought to the table?
– It’s hard to compare really, but it’s been quite the same for the last two album cycles actually. With the two previous albums, we have released them in springtime, which is quite bad for the festival season that year, as things are usually booked by then. That’s one of the reasons why we are releasing this new album in August, so we can hopefully get a few festival slots next year, as we are planning ahead a bit more. In general it’s all about timing, I think. And there are also offers we had to turn down, for different reasons. Some were too bad, or members couldn’t do them for personal reasons, so there are a lot of aspects to it.
How would you describe the market for a band like Portrait these days? Is it easier or more difficult to sell records and do live shows, compared to when you started out?
– I guess it’s easier. Now we have a booking agency which is way better when it comes to touring and festival shows. It’s a different thing really, with all their contacts, and they are business kind of thinking people. When it comes to selling records, that part is also easier now, although we noticed it more in the beginning, since we were more involved in it back then. These days, Metal Blade is taking care of it. The interest in the band in general I think, grows for each release at least. Even if it wasn’t the case, we would still do the same thing. All we want to do, is to create music and perform it live.
When you started out you were one the first new acts drawing heavy on influences from Mercyful Fate. Around the same time, In Solitude popped up, and later bands like Trial and Attic from Germany emerged. Why do you think these bands popped up at such a late time? Even though there were some similar sounding bands in the eighties, you would certainly expect a band like Mercyful Fate to influence more bands?
– When it comes to Sweden, and metal music, we have always been a pretty trendy country. As soon as one band succeeds with one thing, a lot of other acts jump on the band wagon. If we go back to when Europe did “The Final Countdown”, most other hard rock and heavy metal acts tried to do the same kind of thing, with the synthesizers and stuff. It was the same with the Stockholm death metal thing and then the melodic Gothenburg-sound later on. I also think that’s what happened with this traditional heavy metal wave or whatever you want to call it. When it comes to Mercyful Fate-influences, I think the musicians that choose to go that way wants to do something that is a bit more original than the everyday kind of metal, because there really hasn’t been that many bands sounding that way. Also, I am seeing that the bands that had those obvious influences in the beginning, like In Solitude or Trial as you mentioned, have developed on their second and third album, towards something more original. I think that musicians that wants to do something on their own, starts in that manner and then tries to develop towards something more original.
Could it also be the death and black metal generation of musicians discovering more traditional metal?
– Maybe people into those genres thought there has been stagnation and got tired of how those genres started sounding and chose to go back in time instead. It could be many reasons for it, but with the bands you mentioned, I must say that I like their development.
Portrait have also changed, but Christian agrees that the change hasn’t been as radical as that of the already mentioned acts.
– We have been slower in our development, and there has not been any drastic change in the style of the music. But it has always been a goal for us, to find our own thing, still with the same kind of atmosphere. I see a development for each release, expanding both in the aggressive as well as the more epic, atmospheric direction. As long as we are not stagnating, I am satisfied, and as long as I think the music is relevant, we will keep going with no drastic changes in sight.
How do you view the development from “Crossroads” to “Burn The World”?
– That’s hard to say, as I have been heavily involved in the writing myself. I would say we have expanded on all aspects of the band’s music. Some of the aggressive parts are taken to new levels, and also the more melodic, atmospheric and epic parts. We are expanding our music to something greater. It’s hard to put exact words on it, but we try to do albums that have certain dynamics and I think we have succeeded. Also production wise, this album is a step ahead compared to the two previous ones. And of course also compared to the first album, but that goes without saying. There are no drastic changes, as people can hear themselves, but we have developed and expanded on what we want to do.
When we spoke last time, you said that you felt that the lineup you had then was going to last for a time. Why is David and Cab out of the band now?
– Cab left because he felt he didn’t have the time to put enough effort into the band. It was all personal reasons, you know family, work and his life in general. He told us about this already in January last year, but said he was going to think about it for a while. We wanted to keep him, but he took his final decision sometime during the summer. When it comes to David, he seemed to lose interest in the band during the same year. He didn’t come to rehearsals and didn’t put as much into the band as we wanted. It went on for a couple of months, even though we tried to solve things with him. There was no improvement in sight, so we more or less had to take the decision for him. I think that was a week or two before we were supposed to start recording the album, so we had no choice really. We recorded the album as a three piece and then started searching for new people.
As already mentioned, Christian play the bass on the album himself. He laughs a little when I ask if it was an okay experience?
– Yeah, I suppose so. Bass is not the funniest instrument to me. Of course, a proper bassist would be able to do other things than I do on the album, but I did what I thought would suit the songs, based on my knowledge. I am satisfied with how it turned out, but it was somewhat of a hassle to learn that instrument properly. I haven’t really played bass before. It’s pretty close to guitar of course, but still there are differences.
Did your previous bass players add a lot to Your compositions, or did you write the bass lines for them as well?
– It’s been different from song to song actually. Sometimes I did come up with the basslines, sometimes I didn’t. Cab always had a lot of ideas himself, so I think it’s only like two or three songs on the “Crossroads-album where I had some ideas for specific bass parts, the rest on that album is his. On the new album I had to think a bit more. The bass was done after the recording of the guitars and drums of course, so I just had to try and figure out things myself.
Do you think the album would have sounded very different if you had used a proper bass player?
– It’s not that it’s untight or anything like that, but a proper bassist would of course have been able to add a bit more to it. But the way the production is sounding, it’s not like the bass is at the forefront. I don’t think it would have been much different really.
You have two new members in the band by now, recruited after the recording of “Burn The World”. Have you done anything to make sure that Fredrik and Robin stay for a longer time that some of the past members?
– That’s a valid questions, laughs Christian. – But no, we haven’t actually. We feel they share the same view on music, and they are great musicians. They have only been in the band for a few months, but so far they have shown great dedication. What is different with them compared to most other members we have had, is their excellent musical hearing. We don’t have to go through stuff at the rehearsal place anymore, because we decide in advance which songs we’re going to do, and then Fredrik and Robin learn them at home, so we can focus on other things when we rehearse. We are pretty spread out around the country, so we don’t rehearse very often with the full lineup. It’s a really good thing that we don’t have to go through everything note by note at the rehearsal place, but can rather focus on specific details and so on. By now we know that changes in the lineup will not mean the end of the band. It’s not like we are worried, but of course we want to have the same lineup for as long as possible. It’s always a setback when members quit or stop putting an effort into the band, because you have to take a few steps back and start over again. There are no contract written for a specific time though.
You must spend a lot of time recruiting new members almost each and every year…It must be a lot for work for you personally?
– This time it was quite easy actually. Our singer Per, knew Robin, the guitarist from before, and he was very interested from the start. He in turn, knew Fredrik, the bassist, and recommended him. So we got two for the price of one, so to say. Usually it’s not that easy. If we hadn’t secured those two, I have no clue what we should have done. Proper musicians with the same attitude as us aren’t exactly growing on trees.
Your drummer Anders have been in the band since the start, so to turn the last question on its head – what does he have that the other members didn’t have?
– I think he has a lot of patience, and also plenty of discipline. He is the guy that always fixes the practical things, finding rehearsal places, and making sure the offers and gig contracts are held up. A lot of those logistic things. Another thing is that he and I live quite close to each other, we rehearse every week and have known each other for something like 20 years no. Anders is no pussy, crying over small things. He is a problem solver instead.
Last time we spoke, we talked a lot about Richard Lagergren who had left Portrait a bit earlier. I guess you have heard Source his new band?
– Yes, I have.
I recall you saying that you and him were always more or less on the same wave length when it came to the musical direction of Portrait. That can clearly be heard in Source, I think.
– Yeah, definitely. The demo is great. I recognize some of the riffs we rehearsed when he was still in Portrait. Him and I have talked about it too, the fact that we learned a lot from each other when we were playing in the same band. We had a similar vision of things, and pretty similar taste in music as well. The demo is very promising, and I hope for an album from Source soon, it’s not like the world is full of great bands.
One interesting guest that appears on the new album is Kev Bower from Hell. I seem to remember that during the very early days of Portrait, you were thinking about doing a Hell-cover?
– They were a very huge inspiration when they started out. They had some very interesting aspects musically and lyrics wise. I don’t remember if this was before or around the same time they were resurrected, but then this “Human Remains”-album was released, and when hearing that, we understood there was no use in doing a Hell-cover because they perfected the earlier stuff, with a proper production and everything we could have added to their demo songs. So in the end, it never happened.
What is it about Hell that made them such a huge influence at the start of your career? Is it the desire to do things a bit differently?
– Yeah, I think so. Hell really did, or do, their own kind of thing. The dark atmosphere and the theatrical part is a great inspiration also. To me movies and horror stories can be a great influence anyway. They can give you so much more than everyday life and newspapers can, and trigger inspiration leading to other, more spiritual forms and so on. That’s what has been most inspiring to me. It takes you mentally to other levels or can at least help doing so. Portrait is a bit different compared to Hell, because to me at least, our music is not theatrical in the same sense. It’s more about what I feel I bear within myself and the music is a way to channel what I have inside both subconsciously and consciously and try to manifest or portray those things, in a way that is worthy and inspiring enough to act as a channel. As I said, theatrical music and such things can inspire certain thoughts and so on, and can still be important for me when it comes to writing lyrics.
I remember you telling me that the lyrics to “Crossroads” were very personal, it seems your continuing in the same tradition on this new album? Is the new album just a follow up lyrically?
– For sure it’s the essence that is focused upon. The lyrics on the new album also deal with my view upon the world as a whole from the ritual perspective and what I have learnt through occult studies and practices. In my opinion, the lyrics should develop for each release, otherwise you are stagnating. But yeah, they are still personal to me, but can be interpreted in different ways also. To me they all have a very concrete meaning though.
To me it’s also pretty clear that you have evolved technically as a writer. There are many different aspects to that of course…
– That’s great to hear. Thank you! You can find inspiration in many different things, books and movies and so on. It’s hard to describe the ritual things in a worthy manner, but the better your vocabulary becomes, the closer you get.
The cover art for “Burn The World” is the band’s best so far. Christian confirms that he had a pretty clear view of what he wanted this time.
– Yes, I had a very specific idea about the overall concept, but then Adam (Burke) added some stuff too. I think I sent him the lyrics to the title track and then I described a bit how I wanted the cover. I gave him the idea with this God-like figure with the crown and the blindfold, having six enslaved angels tied to his arms. Then the man standing below that has broken his shackles to symbolize his rebellion towards the creator, God and his sevenfold imprisonment of spirit. Then Adam added a lot of ideas about the coloring and landscape. He did a fantastic work, and did the painting in two weeks or something like that.
You have a song with a Swedish title this time, “Likfassna”. I admit I had to google it, seems like it some kind of disease you could get from a dead body.
– Yeah, it is. “Likfassna” is an old term which translates to something like “corpse stuck”, it can have a lot of different outcomes like mental illness, alcoholism, depression and so on, but it’s always derived from the soul of the dead being attached to the living, that could be either through necromantic cursing, or someone having enraged the dead in other ways, so they needed sorceress treatment for their disease. That’s what the lyrics are focused upon. We could have called the “Possessed By A Spirit Of The Dead” or something like that. It was inspired by when I first read about the term “likfassna”. The lyrics are on one level based on that state or disease, and on another level it discusses the cycle of rebirth, and the tyranny in the matter that even the souls of the departed is not set free, but still being attached to the world of the living instead or reaching spiritual transcendence.
You didn’t consider doing the whole song in Swedish?
– Always when I hear metal bands singing in Swedish, I think of punk music. It’s just my own personal connection to the Swedish language in serious music. Some parts of course can be done in Swedish, so maybe for the future in some context. If it fits the song, it’s not out of the question, but it’s not something we have to do just do do it.
Also this time the album is rounded off by a long track again, “Pure Of Heart”. Has it become necessary for you to have a long track at the end, and how does this one differ from the other long tracks?
– It’s been quite an established thing now on every album. I don’t think we necessarily need to have it though, this time I thought about putting that song somewhere else and rather finish it off with a shorter, more direct song. Just in order to change the earlier dramaturgy. Then when I listened to the album in that song order, it simply didn’t feel right. I think also lyrically the last song connects a bit with the first song, something that I like about an album. I like that it goes back to the beginning, back to the core. A long track at the end is surely not a must for future albums. “Pure Of Heart” differs a bit from the longer, finishing tracks on the other albums, it has a quite clear chorus, maybe a little more singalong-friendly. Now that I think of the other songs, it also has a bit different touch to it, it is more a song of victory, while the other ones have been more melancholic.
I am always amazed by the huge amount of great riffs on your albums. I remember when “Time Does Not Heal” by Dark Angel was released and it had this sticker saying, “9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs!”. Have you ever counted the riffs on your albums?
– No, actually not. Maybe we should do that and make a repressing with a similar sticker? Haha! It’s a lot of riffs for sure.
Do you have a secret recipe or something like that?
– Actually, it’s different from time to time. Some riffs can come when we are just jamming in the rehearsal place or when I sit down playing guitar for one hour. I usually start fooling around and then after a while, I start to focus a bit more. I don’t have a good explanation, but it generally starts with one riff, and if I am satisfied with it, then I build the next riffs around that, so that the general feeling is somewhat the same throughout the riffs. I always ask myself: What fits, what doesn’t fit? It’s mostly a matter of inspiration and being in the right frame of mind.
So coming up with the first riff, or the main riff, is pretty crucical for how a song turns out?
– Yeah, most of the time it is like that. Other times, I might have some other riffs laying around which fits with the new riffs.
Life on Metal Blade, has it lived up to your expectations?
– Yeah, I suppose so. We knew that they are a record label and can spread our music to a higher extent than we can do ourselves. They have shown it with a lot of promotion and so on. Then of course we would have thought that when it comes to touring and such things, there would be a more significant difference compared to before. That being on Metal Blade would make things easier, but again, they are a record label, not a booking agency or something like that. They are good to be in contact with, they do the things they shall do and are nice people as well.
Are you content with with the fact that the label is releasing a whole host of vinyl versions in different colors and also a box set containing the new album?
– We were not really involved in that. We knew they wanted to do pressings of the album in different colors, but we didn’t ask and they didn’t tell us which colors. I don’t care myself really, if there is a release I want, I buy the black LP and nothing else. Obviously Metal Blade know more about creating sales, even though it feels a bit weird. That being said, it’s not a problem for us. I actually think this box thing they put together is quite cool. It was also the labels idea by the way. You mostly see bigger bands doing stuff like this.
Cool even though you had to sign a lot of postcards?
– That was maybe the funniest part of it all. I really have a hard time imagining that someone even would want our autographs, but if there are people that do, we can of course give them that.
That Autograph-album in the background of the picture that appeared on your Facebook-page when you were signing, is it from your own collection?
– Oh yeah! Haha. That is a good one.
Do you like some hard rock stuff as well?
– Yeah, I like Survivor and King Kobra and stuff like that. I guess that part isn’t a strong influence in our music, but what I think is interesting with many of those band performing hard rock or AOR, is that the fact that they are growing older, doesn’t seem to affect them at all. The singers of those bands are in perfect shape somehow. Maybe they have taken it a bit easier than the rest of us?
And you can always find the albums really cheap?
– Yeah, exactly. I am not so involved in these things that I hunt and buy the rarities. Obscure AOR is beyond my expertise, but there is lot of good, common stuff to be found.
All photos: Stefan Johansson