With striking artwork from Mariusz Lewandowski of Mirror Reaper fame and track-lengths that stretch beyond the ten-minute mark, you could be forgiven for expecting the new album from Minneapolis outfit False to be full of the languorous grooves and fuzzy riffs of doom. The band have made no such left-field turn, however, instead using Portent to build upon the foundations laid in 2015’s Untitled. It’s an album that’s black metal through-and-through, even if it’s a touch more inventive than some of the genre’s more standard offerings. 

Every song is its own mighty slab of triumphant blackened extremity, each one of them (save the shorter outro) proving urgent and yet vast, all surpassing the genre’s traditional run-times yet never feeling overlong. As the album progresses, each track proves as ambitious as the last, the band using the space to construct vast soundscapes somewhat reminiscent of ‘90s acts like Ulver and Immortal, only with touches of the folky majesty of Panopticon as well as a symphonic element that’s all their own.

Throughout, soaring leads merge with more technical and atonal passages, but the riffs don’t do all the heavy lifting here. Instead, they’re bolstered by ghoulish, gravelly vocals and frenetic percussion, which boasts blasts of only the most ferocious variety and more than the odd inventive fill. Perhaps even more important, though, is the resplendent synth-work, which injects an air of symphonic grandeur into proceedings, deepening an already rich but ominous atmosphere.

Despite the epic scope of these compositions, though, the band waste no time in getting straight to the meat of the songs. Opener ‘A Victual To Our Dead Selves’ kicks of with atonal guitars before the drums launch the number headfirst into chaos, with the song quickly soaring to lofty new heights before closing on a blistering solo without skipping a beat. Though these songs often gallop forwards, accentuated by the symphonics that soar over the riffs themselves, they contain an intriguing blend of beauty and desolation, but where many would see such juxtaposition manifested in long sections of languid atmospherics followed by an unyielding bout of heaviness, False prefer to see these elements run in tandem through their work. At times, of course, one may show dominance over the other, but it seldom lasts long – the anthemic synths of ‘Rime On The Song Of Returning’, for instance, are quickly replaced by breakneck blasts and raw riffs.

‘The Serpent Sting, The Smell Of Goat’ is perhaps the most impressive piece here, though. Comparatively speaking more of a slow-burner, it starts poignant and slow like funeral doom, ramping up the sinister tension bit-by-bit until reaching the intoxicating levels of intensity present on the other two tracks.

So fierce are the album’s first three tracks that closer ‘Postlude’, all mournful keys and ethereal atmospherics, proves a much-needed period of reflection. It’s a testament to the album’s imposing weight that such a palate-cleanser feels not just welcome, but necessary. Portent may just prove the most ambitious USBM release of 2019, but we’d also put money on it being among the best.

Portent is out 12th July on Gilead Media. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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