Album Review: Portrait – Burn the World

It’s been three years since Portrait’s last full-length album, and like clockwork, the band has produced a new recording with Burn the World. It’s evident from the opening notes that Portrait’s newest release maintains the band’s stylistic trajectory away from Mercyful Fate-inspired roots into something much more elaborate, exciting, and modern. If comparisons to ‘80s metal must be made, then Burn the World is less like the stiff, midtempo heavy metal delivery of Mercyful Fate and more like the flowing, extravagant compositions of early American power metal. Vicious Rumors’ Digital Dictator and Chastain’s Ruler of the Wasteland are better comparisons at this point than Don’t Break the Oath, keeping Portrait within the realm of NWOTHM embraced by fellow Swedish acts Trial and RAM.

That said, Portrait incorporates enough variety to complicate comparisons to other bands. In fact, the most notable aspect of Burn the World is its diversity, both between songs and within them. Roaring rhythms and melodic tremolo picking give way to blast beats before yielding to gorgeous acoustic guitar interludes with somber and introspective vocals. Few parts of the album persist long enough to grow stale, and the healthy amount of progression makes several of its songs worth revisiting. Equally impressive as the compositions is the band’s ability to shift between dissimilar sections. Despite some drastic terrain changes, Portrait handles every transition with grace.

The technical skill and complex song structures are apparent immediately on the first full entry, “Burn the World.” The piece shifts rapidly, reaching its third section just past the first minute mark, and Per Lengstedt joins in with his mature and nuanced singing style for the verse. It’s a striking succession of parts, yet the relentless pace ensures there are new moments to enjoy before the incredible intro has even fully passed. An extended guitar solo section appears late in the running time, and a decision to split the solos in the middle with a short reprise of the chorus is just one of many subtle choices that makes “Burn the World” an easy contender for the album’s strongest entry.

An equally excellent performance follows a short time later on “Flaming Blood.” The song features one of the most detailed intros on the album, eventually shifting into a relatively sparse and vocal-led verse section that gives Lengstedt a chance to show off his range and precision. The spotlight turns to Christian Lindell and Robin Holmberg late in the track for one of the album’s many impressive dueling guitar solos. Structurally, “Flaming Blood” is a relatively straightforward offering, but the excellent melodies and technical demonstrations in its individual parts make it one of the album’s best. “To Die For” is similarly outstanding, delivering soaring vocal sections and racing guitar solos with the most velocity of anything on the recording.

As on past releases, Portrait isn’t afraid to venture into long-form songwriting on Burn the World. This is revealed first with “Martys,” a nearly eight-minute effort that, despite its overall competence, leaves its potential unfulfilled. The patient intro and reserved verse feel like the groundwork for a slow build-up, but the possibility of mounting tension and a climax are never explored. An untroubled and uncomplicated chorus section offers little satisfaction, and the song eventually reaches its conclusion without telling much of a musical story. A handsome series of guitar solos help rescue the track from indifference, though they are the sole highlight. “Martys” is a useful break from the detailed and occasionally frenetic songwriting that precedes it, though it comes across as overly long and languid on its own terms.

The band’s second epic proves to be more satisfying. The final track, “Pure of Heart” clocks in at nearly nine minutes and explores some of Burn the World‘s most varied soundscapes. Following a graceful and haunting acoustic guitar composition paired with introspective vocals, the song advances into a midtempo pace for the verse. The choice of notes and percussion in the opening sections builds real anticipation, as does the break near the midpoint that emphasizes Lengstedt’s dramatic vocal presentation. A second acoustic section emerges as an amplified and expanded version of the haunting opener, bracing listeners for the incoming guitar solos. The alternating guitar leads are excellent, as usual, though the escalation hits an anticlimactic note after the break when the band complacently rehashes previous sections of “Pure of Heart” until the finish. Although the song fares much better than “Martyrs,” it never quite delivers the climax promised by its length and exciting early moments.

In its entirety, Burn the World is a frequently explosive effort that occasionally dwindles to embers. Its most compelling pieces arrive early, and the level of inventiveness and technical elaboration revealed upfront can’t sustain itself for the album’s duration. Following the brilliance of “Burn the World” and “Flaming Blood,” tracks like “Mine to Reap” and “Martyrs” are comparatively tepid. The pair of epic songs are anticlimactic and never fully justify their length, causing the album’s 47-minute run time to feel a bit thinner than it should be. Fortunately, the outstanding sound production and generally excellent technical delivery make every song shine, even when the writing slips from the band’s awe-inspiring potential. Burn the World is consistent with the quality of Portrait’s last two releases, offering many inspired and exceptional moments among a collection of above-average entries. It’s a respectable venture that remains enticing for its duration, even if it’s not enough to set the world on fire.

Rating: 87 / 100

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