When it comes to modern heavy metal there are few bands operating at the same level as Portrait. For a decade and a half the Swedish unit have been forging their own path, and in the process infusing life into a longstanding, well-established genre and taking it in new directions. “We are not striving to keep an old school sound fresh,” states guitarist Christian Lindell. “We are striving to develop our own sound. Old school was important maybe on the first demo up until the first album, the main goal since has been to develop our own style and add something to all that has already been done. In the beginning you take inspiration from others, from the outside, other bands, albums etc, but at some point you have to be able to channel inspiration from inside of yourself instead. That is when things start to become interesting.”
Following up 2017’s acclaimed Burn The World, which Lindell rightfully describes as being “an intense album with a very strong energy throughout”, they return with the mighty At One With None. While Portrait fans will immediately recognize it as the work of their heroes they are not simply rehashing old ideas and treading where they have before. “One simple ‘rule’ that I have had personally is that no song written for this album and onwards should be similar to any song that we have already written and released. We have been doing this for 15 years now and I am proud to say that I think we have managed to find our own identity and sound, which can’t really be said about that many bands today. This is our greatest achievement, and the goal is to keep exploring and developing our own sound, without repeating ourselves.” The results of working with this philosophy are undeniable, making for an essential addition to the Portrait canon. That the band hold themselves to an undeniably high standard shines through at every turn, pushing themselves and refusing to let go until a song is perfect. “We take it very seriously and it is always a challenge to change arrangements or remove song parts which you have been satisfied with for months, suddenly realizing that they are not good enough. A part of you always wants to say ‘This song is finished now, it will work out, let’s move on with the next’, and sometimes it’s hard to accept anything else. No part, riff or melody is good enough if it ‘works out’, it needs to add something or else it must be scratched.” Having started writing for the record in the first half of 2019, they ended up with 11 tracks, which they considered too much given their average song length, and the next job was to decide which would make it onto the album, never an easy task for a band that has sweated over everything they have written, finalizing this once the record was tracked in October of 2020.
Lyrically, all of the songs deal with spirituality in different forms. “I have a gnostic outlook on this world and existence, which naturally colors the lyrics,” explains Lindell. “Some lyrics are ‘philosophical’ while others describe experiences of the unseen in different ways.” The title track is about questioning that which is accepted as ‘truth’ on all levels of existence, and asking why things are as they seem. “On another level the title and lyrics speak of the divine spark of all rebellious spirits, who are ‘one with no-one’ in this world and strive to transcend all limits in order to become at one with none, as in nought, before and beyond all.” Then there is “Phantom Fathomer”, which deals with herd mentality and people’s blind trust in authorities in particular, the lyrics having an almost sarcastic twist to them, which is not something the band has really done before. “He Who Stands” takes a different direction, the title “One of the titles attributed to [religious figure] Simon Magus, here symbolizing those of strong spirit, who refuse to accept the limits imposed upon them and who through magical practice and initiation walk the paths toward spiritual Becoming.” With lyrics and music in place the band headed into JFK Studios in Kristianstad, all going very well, then taking the finished tracks to Tommy Hansen (Helloween, Hatesphere) in Denmark for mixing, where things got more complicated and stressful. “We were quite exhausted when done. When there are thousands of things going on at the same time it is obviously hard to make everything clear enough, but we are pleased with the end result.” With all of this done, the band are now looking toward what comes next, and are ready to do whatever it takes. “We already have plans for the next album, which will be a bit different than our previous efforts, other than that we will tour as much as possible. We let those in charge decide if it will be legal shows or not, depending on when they plan on lifting various restrictions, but shows there will be…”