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Portrait - "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" (CD)

Portrait - "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" CD cover image

"Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" track listing:

1. Beast of Fire (7:50)
2. Infinite Descension (6:47)
3. The Wilderness Beyond (2:25)
4. Bloodbath (6:34)
5. Darkness Forever (8:11)
6. The Nightcomers (5:38)
7. The Passion (6:46)
8. Der Todesking (9:33)

Reviewed by on May 7, 2011

"Do yourself a favor – buy this album, memorize where the solos are, and skip the rest. "

Portrait is a traditional metal band from Sweden, very much in the Mercyful Fate/Venom mold. The press kit has the usual claptrap about retaking the metal from modern imposters and whatnot, although being a retro-trad metal outfit with that stance is somewhat humorous. Anyway, Portrait has released a demo, two EPs, and one full-length album before “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae,” and has been bouncing around the European second division since the group’s inception in 2006. “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae” is a pretty decent record, but it is also a bipolar record – there are the solos, and then there is everything else.

Let’s get to the solos first. Phenomenal. Simply jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring stuff. But these aren’t post-metal meanderings, sludge/doom riff-fests, or Malmsteen technical workshops. Instead, guitarists Richard Lagergren and Christian Lindell fire off fist-pumping, horn-throwing, and head-banging solos. These solos are the soundtrack to win life to; need something to play in the background while you slay the dragon, get the girl, or jump the giant chasm with your ’57 Chevy? This is it. Their combination of silky-smooth runs, snuggly-tight harmonizing, and uncanny sense of ebb-and-flow make every single solo on the disc an absolute winner.

And then there is everything else. The album was seemingly written as two parts – some trad-metal songs, and then an equal amount of soloing mixed in. But the trad-metal songs let the solos down. Vocalist Per Karlsson is a King Diamond disciple for sure, but he isn’t nearly as good. His falsettos are grating, and his mid-range, while not bad, certainly doesn’t grab anyone’s attention either.

The music is also pretty bland. Where Lagergren and Lindell write phenomenal solos, they take a basic chord progression backseat during the song parts, and it is even-keel stuff. Nothing in their rhythm playing is anywhere near as exhilarating or as interesting as the solos. Add in a nothing-to-see-here rhythm section, drummer Anders Persson in particular shows little imagination or variation, and “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae” is an epically bi-polar album.

Now maybe I am being too harsh. Maybe the solos are so unbelievably good that the rest of the music can’t get over the impossibly high bar and seems bad in comparison. But I don’t believe that. When I listen to this during the work day, every single solo jerks me away from my email and spreadsheets and makes me reserve the next couple minutes to gawk at the majesty. But when the band throttles down to play some chords and sing some lyrics, “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae” becomes background noise once again. So do yourself a favor – buy this album, memorize where the solos are, and skip the rest.

Highs: The extended solo in “Der Todesking” is the best of a fantastic bunch.

Lows: Drummer Anders Persson adds nothing, and may even subtract with his overly-simple style.

Bottom line: The best solos you’ve ever heard, combined with mediocre songs, averages out to a decent album.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)