Album: Desolate – EP
We live in a society founded upon norms. Now, you don’t have to have a college sociology class under your belt to know that–whether actively or passively, we’re guided to do what is widely considered “right” by a series of informal social constructs. They exist for a reason–as a great many of them serve to sturdy a society undergoing constant turbulence; however, just as sure as there are rules, there must be those who defy them. These social deviants tend to be considered wrong-doers and miscretins, and as such, deserve to be castigated from contemporary culture. Those actions and mindsets hold true–until exposed to the debut EP by West Virginian warriors Portrayer. Desolate is a devilishly heavy yet wondrously unique experience that dips the listener head to toe in filth, letting them truly soak in the surreal pleasure and magnificent malevolence of being truly evil.
Desolate is a dissonant, destructive tour-de-force of hard-hitting down-tempo deathcore. The true glory found within the annals of aural onslaught that Portrayer bring to the table is found in the engaging and immense instrumental diversity that separates them from the ever-growing pack of punishing, low-and-slow music. From the very get-go—mere seconds into “Disgust”—Portrayer aren’t just another bottom-heavy, breakdown-friendly band. Percussionist Michael Strakal leads the charge with fast-footed kick drum patterns and splashy, smothering cymbals that serve as a strong, sturdy backbone for Frank Garrison’s thudding, snapping bass grooves and Johnny Lewis’ lurid, eviscerating fretwork. Strakal continues on, pushing Portrayer’s instrumentation along, relying on quick, catchy kick drum patterns (which seem to be his expertise) alongside drop-of-a-dime fills that send even the quickest of Desolate’s grooves into gutwrenching, jaw-dropping abominations of breakdowns that would make Black Tongue shudder. “Labyrinth” is an aptly-named example of Portrayer’s punishing and intense instrumental dynamic. Strakal’s drumming is simply top-notch, serving as a smooth vector for Garrison and Lewis’ stellar transitions from bone-busting chugs to eerie, atmospheric riffs that frighten the listener more effectively than any horror movie could ever hope to. Portrayer make varied—but expert—use of their dynamic, applying it countless times throughout Desolate to transition into—and out of—moments of prolapse-inducing brutality that will catch the ears of down-tempo junkies from around the globe.
Portrayer have the listener hooked with their hellacious musicianship and devastating songwriting dynamic, but they only truly reel them in once the vocals of Chris Stout kick in. Where the band might have ruined Desolate, they instead solidify its position in the ranks of deathcore greatness with Stout’s sinister vocal prowess. True to his name, Stout bombards the listener with grisly, low growls and harsh mid-range howls that split the listener’s ears wide open but keep them coming back for more. “Labyrinth” sees Stout at his most dynamic—ranging from insane shrieks to devilish lows hitting half-spoken chants and hellish mid-range shouts as well. Stout is a constant force to be reckoned with, whose constant roaring during “Pitch Black” is reminiscent of early Oceano, while the fast-paced screaming on the EP’s title track may as well be that of The Holy Guile’s Saud Ahmed. The take home message is simple: Stout’s surreal vocal performance seals the deal when it comes to Portrayer’s Desolate—it takes the last thing even the most scathing critics of heavy music could use as ammunition against the band and instead makes it one of the release’s best selling point.
What Desolate lacks in length it more than makes up for with variety and intensity. “Digust” is a raunchy bout through groovy, progressive territory that ultimately ends in the unbelievably heavy—while “Deviant” is every bit the anthemic display of demolishing deathcore that one would expect from an album’s lead single. “Labyrinth” winds in and out of the listener’s head like a serpent, corroding the listener’s cognitive function with technical prowess and masterful songwriting—all before “Pitch Black” hammers the final nail in the listener’s coffin with unending heaviness. One part lacerating speed, one part brilliant songwriting and three parts remorseless aggression, Desolate is a short but scathing listen that shoots first and doesn’t even bother asking questions. Far from a sheep in the herd of heavy down-tempo congestion, Portrayer take heavy influence from down-tempo deathcore acts and spikes them with thrash, groove and death metal to create a uniquely immersive experience that defies social conventions, not just begging to be heard, but demanding it.
For Fans Of: Oceano, Demolisher, Beyond the Aftermath, God of Nothing
By: Connor Welsh