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The Host

Sweden Country of Origin: Sweden

1. Hoc Est Corpus Meum (Intro)
3. The Sacrament
4. Oneiric Visions
5. One Last Kiss
6. Treachery
7. Sound The Horn
8. Dweller Of The Threshold
9. Die In My Heart
10. Voice Of The Outsider
11. From The Urn
12. The Men Of Renown
13. Sword Of Reason (The Steel Of Revenge)
14. The Passions Of Sophia

Review by Felix on July 8, 2024.

Good news, Portrait return with another dose of “Heavy Metal Darkness”. Both Burn The World and At One With None, the albums before The Host boasted with totally excellent title tracks. 'Burn The World' is one of Portrait’s most energetic attacks and everyone who has ever heard 'At One With None' will agree that this composition is pure sonic magic. But now The Host is the album that represents the Swedes in the year 2024 and yes, it lacks of an equally exciting title track. Honestly speaking, it has no title track at all. Perhaps this is a sign that all pieces were of the same relevance during the songwriting process. As you have probably already noticed, we are speaking about 13 tracks plus intro and a bombastic length of 74 minutes. I guess the concept required it, but is it really a good idea to release such a monster in terms of quantity? I doubt it, because I believe that almost all of us will find a few tracks that leave room for optimization. In my case, these songs are the kitschy titled 'One Last Kiss' and 'Die In My Heart'. The first one is a ballad whose pretty dramatic aura leaves me cold, the second one remains comparatively vapid.

Yet it is not fair to start this review with the less positive aspects of The Host, because it houses a lot of great music and all in all, it meets my relatively high expectations. Portrait deliver a vital, coherent and sometimes complex work that does not lack substance, ideas or (most important) metal. The band has not modified its style, we are still getting a bastard of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate, including a few excursions into the territories of thrash and speed metal. To avoid misunderstandings, I want to emphasize that it is not only the almost always high-pitched voice of Per Lengstedt which makes me think of the Danish legend. Most songs of Portrait still have this occult undertone that shimmers through their melodies and it goes without saying that the lyrics support the mystical mood. By the way, the concept story is not much more realistic than those the King once wrote. Religious symbols and the devil play their part again and, as a matter of course, a preacher must die. (Decide for yourself whether this a loss or not.) Per Lengstedt presents this story fervently and his great, skilful performance makes him definitely to a success factor for the Swedes. Nevertheless, depending probably on my changing mood, I find it a bit exhausting to hear him managing the highest tones over the distance of 74 minutes. Anyway, my general statement is that he is an awesome metal singer.

Although I appreciate that Portrait cover the entire range of vigorous, robust and tradition-conscious metal, I like their harsher songs most. The triple strike after 'One Last Kiss' shows Portrait in their best form. The verses of 'Treachery' reveal some Maiden aesthetics, but the impulsive chorus emphasises the individuality of the Swedish five-piece. The explosive beginning of 'Sound The Horn' pays tribute to the gods of speed and thrash metal. An alarming chorus crowns the song and Lengstedt’s falsetto also adds value to the track. The slightly bulky guitars are fascinating, the galloping parts after the second chorus tell all metal fans that they have arrived at home and the entire track spreads a somewhat apocalyptic aura. 'Dweller Of The Threshold' shines with one of the best riffs of the whole album and delivers speed metal in all its purity. The shortest of the regular tracks surprises with a nearly linear configuration and some guys will perhaps call it one-dimensional. Okay, compared with the other tracks of the Portrait cosmos, this is more or less true, but the main thing is that the song is absolutely great. It comes to the point directly, it is free from any kind of ballast and marks a great contrast to the more complicated tracks.

Two further songs stand out. 'Oneiric Vision' bundles the strengths of the band with some harsh sequences, some melodic yet dark parts, discreetly integrated keyboards, once again galloping guitars and an earworm chorus that one cannot do better. If I ever manage to memorise the strange demon names, I'll sing along. “Azza Uzza Azz…”, sorry, I cannot remember the rest. Too many “z” – but I remember very well the fifth highlight of The Host. If there would be only one track that mirrors the spiritual proximity bond between Portrait and Mercyful Fate, then it is 'From The Urn'. The solo guitar at the beginning is obviously played by Melissa herself and the vocal lines of Lengstedt are confusingly similar to the typical ones of the King. By the way, the song also reflects the tragic and desperate mood of this part of the concept very well. Unfortunately, the artwork fails to represent the story appropriately. While the cover of At One With None was like a mysterious omen for the larger than life title track, I cannot lose positive words about the picture that ornaments, no, disgraces The Host. It looks amateurish, incoherent and it is definitely no eye-catcher. That’s a pity, because the musical content would have deserved a much more suitable visualization.

The remaining tracks are good, especially 'The Blood Covenant' marks a worthy opener after the intro. The monumental closer is okay, but it cannot make a final, overwhelming statement and less than eleven and a half minute would have been enough as well. However, The Host is a very good album and perhaps the most qualitatively balanced work of the band so far. Its production is not very brutal, but definitely a good one. It avoids soulless sterility, but it does not neglect the clarity which is also characteristic for the musical approach of the band that leaves no doubt as to what it stands for: unadulterated, down-to-earth and yet sophisticated metal. And yes, speaking of brutality – Portrait have already recorded more aggressive records, a song like 'Bloodbath' from Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae is sharper than the material they represent on The Host. But believe me, you will not find any cheesy or sugary line here. It’s all true “Heavy Metal Darkness” – and that’s a lot. In a just future, Portrait will one day fill the void left by Maiden, Priest and others. If conditions remain unjust, at least a lot of insiders will enjoy their music. Not so bad either.

Rating: 8.3 out of 10


Review by Vladimir on June 3, 2024.

As someone who worships Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, it's no wonder that the bands like Attic and Portrait, which were heavily influenced by them, are going to be just as interesting for someone like me. After the release of Attic's incredible "Return Of The Witchfinder", I was patiently waiting for the next release in this series, and the turn finally came for Portrait's sixth album The Host, which is due to be released on June 21st, 2024 via Metal Blade Records. Without any further ado, it's time to dive in to the bloodbath and explore the dark realm of Portrait's The Host.

Starting off slow and steady with the ominous intro track 'Hoc Est Corpus Meum', and proceeding immediately into 'The Blood Covenant', the journey to the blood-soaked world of Portrait is instantly turning into a turbulent thrill-ride full of delights. It's essentially what you would expect to get, some evil and wicked heavy metal with dark atmosphere and eerie storytelling, where each song consists of solid rocking riffs, double-bass drumming, occasional synths and epic singing vocals with high-pitched falsettos, all of which come from their Mercyful Fate & King Diamond influenced background since the band's early beginnings. Overall, there is plenty of heaviness and catchiness to be heard all throughout the album, ranging from galloping riffs to slow melodies, but along the way you will notice that there is also a lot of progression, with this strong sense of dynamic curve that fluently transitions from one song to another. However, you would be unwise to think that this album is all about fast heavy metal with evil and dark subjects, because you also get one nice ballad 'One Last Kiss', a nice change of pace that sets up a different mood than the rest, but still keeps the flow of The Host very strong and consistent. From the very get-go, this album has been full of surprises from every angle, in terms of the riffing or the general song execution, but something that really stands out among the rest are the borderline black metal influences in the instrumentation, expressed through tremolo picking riffs with faster drumming and even blast beats. This may not come as much of a surprise to you if you are generally familiar with Portrait's discography, especially because it was done beforehand on some of their earlier works, but the biggest highlight about this is that every song on the album is filled with so much tension and suspense that contribute to the effective use of these sudden changes, that in the end come off as unexpected yet incredibly welcome. Whichever way you manage to experience the magic and the course of this album, you can't deny that it really takes you in so many places with every song that you just can't afford to feel unamused or unimpressed, even during the second half that gradually builds up to the grand climax of the album with 'The Passions Of Sophia'.

For a long time now, Portrait's songwriting has been incredibly dynamic and interesting with its variety of ideas that offer a bit of everything, with such strengths and qualities that keep you on edge full time. The Host is definitely no exception in that regard, because it is very rich and powerful with the overall songwriting execution, and even the stylistic consistency that is carried over from one song to another keeps things on a even level of enjoyable and engaging. Besides the simple but effective riffing, this album also wins a lot of points with its amazing vocal performance by Per Lengstedt, as well as the fun dynamic moving bass lines by Fredrik Petersson, giving an extra touch to the already brilliant musicianship that was established from the start. One thing that really surprised me about this album is the incredibly gruesome and gory album cover by Niklas Webjörn, which is still very fitting alongside the previous album covers that also had this canvas painting style to them, however this one is really exceptional because it's more explicit and unsettling to look at unlike the others, but nevertheless, I won't deny the fact that he did a great job at capturing the essence of The Host by expressing its macabre nature. As for the production, The Host was produced and mixed by the band's vocalist Per Lengstedt, and he did a fantastic job at providing a top-notch sound that perfectly carries out every bit of Portrait's performance, all the way down to every instrumentation and every superb vocal line.

In the end, The Host has shown itself as another fine result of Portrait's capability to craft something that is equally fantastic and imaginative. Their songwriting has always been very interesting and from album to to album it never let me down, it just became more interesting and was further expanded into different territories worth exploring. Overall, I think that The Host is a great album that checks all the marks for me.

Rating: 8.9 out of 10