"Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Long ago, there was a time when heavy metal was consumed by darkness...but not blackness. It was a time before bestial thrashers and proto-death bands took hold and ripped people's faces off...a time when melody and harmony still had a place in metal, but the Devil was just starting to cast his spell. Portrait are a throwback to that time and "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" is a massive statement that metal doesn't have to sound like a wall of mud to conjure up the darkness.

These dudes have been trying to nail this feeling of dark melodic metal for a while now but "CLMD" is the first time they've succeeded with no strings attached. The comparisons to the first two Mercyful Fate albums are unavoidable and I don't think Portrait would be offended by them, but there's more depth here than just a complete clone job. There's an echo of the darker NWOBHM acts as well. The real breakthrough Portrait has made here is in the lead vocal department...Per Karlson is by far the best singer the band has ever had. Where previous vocals squawked their way through squeaky King Diamond imitations, Karlson more accurately hits that style. He avoids the excesses of King's falsetto without abandoning it totally and his vocals have that eerie moaning quality that Diamond was so good at on "Melissa" and "Don't Break The Oath". Portrait really needs to stick with this guy.

The songs are fast and epic in a way that even Fate's rarely were. "Beast of Fire" initiates the ritual with a blazing flurry of lead guitar soloing. The song is long and complex, with plenty of time changes and an overall gloomy and ominous feeling. Only the acoustic "Wilderness Beyond" signals any relief. "Bloodbath" is thrashier and more bloodthirsty, making it one of my favorites, while "The Nightcomers" sports some really huge riffs. The only time Portrait's ambitions get the better of them are with the album-ending "Der Todesking", which at 10 minutes is just too long. The melodic section in the middle is draggy in particular. It's the one tune that needed paring back.

The classic dark metal sound is on the rise again. Argus has also made their bid to reclaim it recently and the upcoming debut from In Solitude has already got some tongues wagging, but right now, it's hard to see how Portrait's "Crimen "Laesae Majestatis Divinae" can be beat at this game.