by Niklas Göransson
Portrait, Swedish purveyors of heavy metal darkness, return with a new album. Guitarist Christian Lindell explains what’s been holding the band back, and decries fallacies in both metal and the world itself.
– “Burn the World” is more aggressive than our previous work, a transition I regard as entirely natural. While PORTRAIT‘s lyrical concepts explore a diverse array of perspectives, they share the same underlying thematic foundation and conveying them required a certain amount of hostility.
The lyrics describe what Christian considers to be cosmic restrictions, or means by which human limitations can be circumvented and transcended.
– Our music takes different routes and atmospheres depending on the song’s conceptual orientation. In my opinion, it all adds up to a powerful and dynamic album. I’m entirely satisfied with all aspects of it – the soundscape, song writing, performance and so forth.
The cover artwork was commissioned from an American artist called Adam Burke. It depicts Christian’s personal visualisation of the creator of this world; fumbling in a sightless, blinding and enslaving stupor, with six angels chained to his arms.
– Together, they represent all sevenfold manifestations of creation; the imprisonment of spirit within the realm of matter. Before them stands the man who has seen through the veil and laid bare the true nature of creation – he who liberates himself from shackles of imposed fate.
”Burn the World” was written and recorded by drummer Anders Persson, vocalist Per Lengstedt and guitarist Christian Lindell. HELL’s Kevin Bower contributed keyboards, Tore Stjerna of Necromorbus Studio mixed and mastered it, and three of the songs feature guitar solos by Set Teitan from DISSECTION.
– I’m honoured by his participation, and he sure did a fine job in my opinion. DISSECTION have been immensely important to me and I’m glad I got to see them live a few times during the ’Rebirth’ era. Their final concert is still the most powerful show I’ve ever witnessed.
Billed as Midsummer Massacre, the concert took place in Stockholm on June 24, 2006 – and offered what could arguably be called the most ambitious extreme metal stage décor to date.
– DISSECTION combined genuine spiritual conviction with skilful musicianship in a formidable and potent manner, of which equal I’ve witnessed neither before nor after. That’s precisely what places them above and beyond any other so-called satanic metal band.
Christian recalls a related anecdote from December 30, 2005, when DISSECTION played with BEHEMOTH in the Swedish capital.
– My friend and I embarked on a six-hour trip to Stockholm, only to discover that tickets were sold out when we were almost there. We went to the venue anyway and ran into Jon Nödtveidt (DISSECTION) outside. After explaining the situation to him, he produced an entry stamp from his pocket.
It was the same marker that concert guests received upon showing their tickets at the entrance. Alas, as Nödtveidt was about to commence stamping, a snooping security guard appeared and asked what he was doing. He explained how the young men were roadies who needed immediate access to the venue.
– The guard answered, “Jon, you and I both know that’s not true”. Jon said he was sorry but at least he’d tried, and then left. As he passed us he whispered, ’Meet me around the corner in ten minutes.’ We waited, then walked around the corner and there he was – he gave us the stamps and let us in through the backstage entrance with the words, ‘If anybody asks, it wasn’t me!’
PORTRAIT emerged from the first wave of resurrected Swedish heavy metal of the mid-00s. It could however be noted that they haven’t quite attained the same level of prominence as many of their contemporary peers.
– The main reason is obviously that their music attracts a wider audience than ours. Style-wise, one of the differences is how we’ve always had musical influences from black and death metal, while still first and foremost being a heavy metal band.
Just as the fusion might attract people from both camps, he speculates that it’s perhaps more likely to act as a repellent.
– With our music being too far away from both SCORPIONS and BATHORY so to speak, who knows? Caught in the middle, as the late poet once sang. In regards to factors unrelated to actual song-writing, there are a few things I believe have held us back. One of them being that we haven’t done nearly enough touring.
Throughout PORTRAIT’s existence; most members have always held stable full-time jobs or similar commitments.
– Several good offers had to be turned down as a result. When we formed the band in 2006, at twenty-one I was the youngest member. Things might have looked very different if we’d been a bit younger – before everyone got used to having a somewhat stable economy, car and house, and thus would’ve had less to lose by going on tour.
Why not simply get rid of members who are unable to put in the requisite effort?
– As it happens, this brings us to the next speed-bump on our road to stardom; the endless line-up fluctuations ever since we first started. And with this follows all internal hardships associated with member changes – allowing new people the time it takes to fully immerse themselves in what we do musically, getting to know them personally, learning to work together as a unit, and so on.
Christian notes dryly how it must be awkward for PORTRAIT fans to see different line-ups on everything they’ve released, with no exceptions so far – including the upcoming fourth album.
– How member changes are perceived by others is not a huge concern though, nor is anything else related to the band’s level of fame for that matter. All in all, I wish some changes hadn’t been necessary – but nothing to do about that now of course, besides trying to make the best of the present situation.
Most terminations of service were on charges of unsatisfactory efforts – then there were arguments between members, as well as a few cases of conflicting time schedules. Christian points out how there’s a significant difference between being the driving force of a band and ’just a member’.
– Everyone is at the very least expected to show some level of enthusiasm and dedication. If not actively contributing to the writing process or helping out with various administrative and logistical tasks, then at least be interested enough to learn the songs properly. Coming to rehearsals is a start.
Maybe you’re just a bastard to work with?
– Well, if you find those terms unreasonable then I can surely see how collaboration might prove troublesome. Quite simply – members outside the creative process are unlikely to value the band as much as those who participate.
Musicians of this ilk are usually devoid of visionary aspects, and tend to play mostly from simple enjoyment of the music and to a certain extent the attention it brings. Christian has no issue with performers driven by such motivations, but there is no place for them in PORTRAIT.
– At a certain point, these people usually feel as if they’ve achieved everything they set out to do – resulting in a loss of will to invest any sincere effort. A scenario which has happened a few times now. As a songwriter, this behaviour isn’t really understandable. Nor can it ever be accepted.
After eleven years as a band, Christian resolutely proclaims PORTRAIT to be more important to him than ever before.
– As such, there’s no room for half-assedness. A valuable lesson that we – meaning myself, Anders and Per – have learnt when it comes to line-ups is to never take anything for granted. What might appear gold for the moment can turn to shit at the blink of an eye.
During 2016, Mikael Castervall and David Olofsson both had to leave the band for various reasons. Next in line are Robin Holmberg on guitar and Fredrik Petersson on bass.
– No matter how things turn out, I will continue for as long as I feel inspired to write music suitable for PORTRAIT – even if it will have to be on a ’MASTER’S HAMMER basis’, should these line-up related problems continue.
Anyone who’s met Herr Lindell is likely to know he has many and strong opinions on metal, and the state of it.
– A semi-recent phenomenon here in Sweden I can neither relate to nor understand is this celebrity DJ business. All of a sudden everyone’s a fucking DJ at some random pub somewhere. What the hell is that all about? Stay at home instead.
A common observation by people who received their fundamental musical schooling before the millennial shift is how everything related to music consumption has been upturned by the internet. Christian sums up the current situation – at least in Sweden – as ’a lot of fashion but little passion’.
– If you get everything served to you for free, you’ll obviously not value it as much. A natural progression of this is a less dedicated listenership. Note that I’m not implying having been forced to fight and kill for albums I wanted while growing up – it was more the usual case of buying what I could afford, borrowing and copying albums from friends with similar music taste and so on. Slowly, the collection began to grow.
He emphasises how it’s not the materialistic aspect of music that’s important, rather the effort invested in its discovery and acquisition – the focus it generates, listening and getting into the music and all that comes with it.
– With access to most records in existence only a mouse-click away, you won’t build up the same visualisations, expectations and hunger for unheard albums. For example, buying “Iron Fist” (MOTÖRHEAD) and listening to it a thousand times before finding or affording “Ace of Spades” – expectations will obviously have grown in the meantime.
The purported logic being a heightened sense of appreciation for new music if there’s a sense of effort and expectation involved – rather than merely clicking a streaming link a second after learning of its existence.
– I’m not claiming the chase to be better than the catch, but imagine the first hundred albums you got hold of and compare it to a modern person who can listen to the lot of them via his computer within a week’s time. This obviously won’t forge the same bonds to the genre or its associated lifestyle, and he won’t value it as much.
Christian brings up another fairly new phenomenon in Sweden – what he describes as an ongoing politicisation of metal. Various interest groups with different agendas trying to appropriate metal for their own cause, while simultaneously calling for the ostracising of those who disagree.
– People ’fighting for equality and inclusion’ on one side and those who get butt-hurt over this on the other. They clash in internet debates, both sides proclaiming their own ideology the most rebellious and therefore ’metal’. The tolerant side screams ’racist!’ at everything and their nemeses claim Sweden to be in need of RoboCop due to problems they relate to immigration.
Nowadays, he says, most Swedes have personal opinions on these topics. However, the issue isn’t with individual viewpoints – problems only arise when they’re used to enforce limitations on what metal should be about.
– The way I see it – just because populist parties are currently gaining influence, it doesn’t automatically make ideologies opposing them ’provocative’ and by extension suitable for metal. This would imply the genre as a whole to be dependent on political waves and trends, which is neither my understanding nor opinion. On the contrary; the detachment from such bullshit is probably one of the reasons why metal has survived for so long, unlike subcultures with an outspoken political orientation.
He points out how, in the past, there were rarely any problems socialising internally within the Swedish metal scene, despite it always containing individuals with wide-ranging political sympathies. With everyone sharing a passion for both the music and lifestyle, there were more pertinent issues to bicker about than what to vote for. Alas, this has gradually been eroding the last few years with relative newcomers and defectors from other sub-cultures – neither with a traditional metal background – trying to impose restrictions on what’s appropriate.
– I suppose social media in combination with a sensitive political climate has forged such stupidity. People in general can’t seem to resist erecting their own prisons. The left and right wings squabble with each other on the internet, while the bird and its scheming head remains hidden.
Do you believe there are specific types of people who become metalheads?
– I believe most who are drawn to metal music have in common a certain realisation – based either on experience or purely instinctive – that something is profoundly wrong with this world. There’s a certain appeal towards music perceived as fierce and dark as means of exploration, escape, or opposition.
We discover a style of music which perfectly captures what we’ve always felt but never been able to structure our thoughts around or put words to.
– As we get increasingly immersed in it, everything unrelated becomes ever more irrelevant. With this comes the antagonistic stance towards ’normal’ people – an ’if you’re not into metal, you are not my friend’ attitude. There’s a form of detachment here as we distance ourselves from the thraldom of society, at least on a mental level.
The metalhead self-identifies internally as an outsider, leaving the mind increasingly susceptible to questioning of what’s regarded as established truths.
– It becomes an us-versus-them mentality as we build our own outpost, from which we can see the world clearer than ever before. To a certain degree, free of some of the moral shackles clasped on us – knowing full well that what we were told to do with our lives wasn’t as important as they once made it seem.
Admittedly, this process is probably far easier and more accepted to undergo in Sweden than in many other parts of the world.
– Which probably accounts for the abundance of transparent posers and trendies from this country. Still, there are two major differences between people in the metal scene. The vast majority are those who wish to influence the surrounding world for something subjectively better – even if it’s existential revocation.
Others, he says, simply seek to further escape it.
– Most end up in the first category and are likely to remain there given the issue of politicisation we touched upon earlier. Though I can enjoy music from both camps, the second category is where things start getting interesting. I guess examples of people who chose this route should be obvious enough.
Christian says no one is completely unaffected by politics, norms, laws and so forth. What’s important is the willingness to remove certain blindfolds, to scourge nooks and crannies of the mind otherwise left unexplored.
– Metal obviously isn’t the only road to illumination but in my case, it’s been absolutely crucial. Had I never discovered the genre to begin with, other things now invaluable to me would’ve remained hidden and I might have led a tedious existence in the wheel of newspaper conformed reality.
Discussing esoteric matters with Christian, I find myself curious if it’s harder to have one’s lyrics taken seriously as a heavy metal band. After all, such themes are more associated with the more extreme forms. As it turns out, he’s been subjected to similar viewpoints in the past.
– I have no immediate need for people to understand or take to heart the lyrics, but if they’re read from the right perspective and act as inspiration – great. This will obviously never happen with someone who believes spirit-work, religion and occultism to in any way be exclusive to black metal. Simply because the person obviously has no knowledge or experience in either topic.
Despite never following the scene especially closely, Christian has met a lot of black metal fans over the years.
– Endless hours of listening to people rage on about the likes of DIMMU BORGIR; wimps and fakes who don’t stand behind their lyrics and only use them to look cool. But see, the problem is – and unfortunately it took me years to realise this – these agitators are just as spiritually sedentary themselves.
Christian mentions having made numerous attempts at discussing this ’Satanism’ that’s supposedly of such importance but has, with few exceptions, found black metal promulgators incapable of rationally explaining what it actually entails.
– A clear indication of how there’s little to no internal theological discourse either. Instead they create their own illusory realities to cavort about in nocturnal gnosis, doing nothing to attain goals they claim to have. And, for the most part, not even understanding the difference between misanthropy and depression.
He mentions also having been subjected to tirades in abundance about both Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan brand of Satanism from people who themselves unknowingly spend their own lives in full accordance with the same ego-centric mindset.
– Now I’m in no way defending LaVey; I see his bullshit as solely political ideology meant as provocations during the hippie era, when proclaiming that ’might is right’ – pun intended – was deemed edgy.
Christian regards LaVey’s teachings, as outlined in The Satanic Bible, as a good alternative lifestyle for people who want to embrace their base desires without necessarily establishing a connection to the numinous.
– Just like ninety-nine percent of the people into black metal, no matter if they’re CRADLE OF FILTH fans, Bathory Hordes members, or the more ’serious and ideological’ kind of retards. I’d take a good circus show over transparent charlatanry any day, which makes the ones falsely claiming to be serious far worse than the actual clowns.