Photo: Addrian Jafaritabar
In the world of heavy music there are a lot of dark descriptive words thrown around to hammer home the sound of a band. Terms like brooding, sinister, evil, dark and demonic are the norm. But something that isn’t always associated with the darker side of heavy music is fun, and the pure unbridled love of creating music and putting your all into a project.
This is why when a band like Texas trio Portrayal Of Guilt come along and break the mould, people tend to turn an inquisitive ear in their direction to see what they are all about.
The band formed in 2017 after vocalist/guitarist Matt King and drummer James Beveridge’s old band seemingly reached its natural conclusion, and King wanted to do something more in line with the bands that influenced him when he was younger. But most importantly, the guitarist wanted to be in a band in which he could write and create for the pure enjoyment of it.
In the four years since Portrayal Of Guilt became a band they have put out two EPs, three split records and a full-length, and they’re now on the cusp of releasing their sophomore effort We Are Always Alone.
You might think that a band so relentless with its output would have some grander thought process behind what goes into creating their heavy, screamo-inspired sound. But the reality is very different, as we discovered upon getting in touch for a chat. “At this point we’re just having fun,” King explains when probed about the quick turnover in material from the band. “No deep thought goes into what we’re writing musically, it just happens naturally. The only thing we’re trying to achieve is a better version of ourselves with each release as we continue to grow.”
This desire to almost one-up themselves is very much apparent on We Are Always Alone, a record where Portrayal Of Guilt sound at their most polished, but without losing any of the venom which has made people pay attention to their work up until this point. The bulk of the record was written before the world fell into the abyss of a global pandemic, meaning the band were afforded the chance to record at Cacophony Recorders in Austin, Texas with mastering from Will Yip helping to make this the band’s fullest offering yet.
“Being able to record in an actual studio and spend more than just a few days working on the album has made a huge difference in my opinion,” says King. “Not only that, but the songwriting has evolved immensely.”
Being afforded the luxury of taking their time on the creation of the record has meant that King and co have been able to pay a bit more attention to some of the nuisances of their sound. Comparatively, it has been well documented that with their 2018 debut Let Pain Be Your Guide, the band were working to a tight schedule, with their focus being, at the time, on touring. The record was by no means rushed, but the extra attention to detail is certainly apparent on the follow up.
One of the elements the band have been able to hone in on is the incorporation of noise into their sound, something that has always been present but maybe not fine-tuned. This time around, Kind passed that responsibility on, allowing him to focus on the guitarwork. “Because of our consistent touring, I found myself too busy to work on the electronics as often as I had been,” he explains. “I reached out to Mack Chami, (Terror Cell Unit, God Is War) who I’m a fan of, to inquire about being a part of this release… We’re stoked that he was not only into it, but contributed the way he did.”
The result is a record dripping with dread and apathy, with each track featuring the band’s attempts to cope with a splintered society. Though it was recorded before we were hit with a deadly virus, the themes resonate with where the world’s at right now, with King explaining that what we hear on We Are Always Alone is inspired by his own experience with and reaction to world events.
“We Are Always Alone as a whole is about the realisation that at the end of the day, you can only depend on yourself,” King reveals, a poignant statement that gives new meaning to the gloomy album title. With the ferocious and venomous nature of the frontman’s vocal style, the lyrics aren’t always discernible, but the energy and passion is palpable, and King urges people to dig into his lyrics, adding: “as a matter of fact I would like it more if people could understand what I was saying. I hope people read the lyrics.”
Following some impressive splits with the likes of Street Sects and Slow Fire Pistol during a three-year gap between albums, there is a huge amount of excitement surrounding the release of the band’s new material, but then a certain buzz has followed them ever since they first released their self-titled debut 7” in 2017.
When Portrayal Of Guilt formed, King saw it as something fun for him to do, but it soon became clear that this was something bigger than that, something that other people were also invested in. To this day, though, the guitarist struggles to put his finger on what it is about their self-titled debut release that drew people to the band.
“I wish I knew why people liked the EP so much, but we appreciate it nonetheless,” he tells us. “That was the first time I was writing the riffs, as I had only handled the vocals in my previous project. I didn’t completely believe in myself or my ideas like I should have, and the positivity from the first release really helped me break free of that mindset. After we released the first EP, people seemed to start looking in our direction. It was very positive. The 7″ was selling, which we were never really used to. We toured on it pretty quickly and had such a good experience that we decided to go all in and haven’t looked back since.”
It was this change in attitude that helped push the band forward, and King puts their subsequent consistency down to he and his bandmates going “all in” on the band: “We went from no touring at all to touring for the majority of the year, which was a huge change for us. That, along with being consistent with writing music, has taken up a lot of our time – until lately of course.”
In their time as a band Portrayal Of Guilt’s aggressive nature has evolved, with their sound incorporating elements of hardcore, black metal, death metal, powerviolence, punk and noise throughout their discography. But it is the influence of the screamo genre that the band wear on their sleeve most prominently. For one, they have always worked closely with Majority Rule’s Matt Michel, previously as a producer but this time around he lends guest vocals to album track ‘Garden Of Despair’, with Chris Taylor of screamo legends Pg.99 also appearing on ‘The Second Coming’.
And as well as forging relationships with the artists he looks up to, King hopes that having them featured on his band’s new record could potentially open up a new generation to the music which influenced him. “Both Majority Rule and Pg.99 are a couple of my favourite bands of all time and there is a clear influence within our music,” he admits. “It would be pretty incredible to introduce more people to them, as well as the many other bands who have influenced what we’re doing.”
At the time of writing We Are Always Alone is yet to be unleashed on the world, but the band aren’t resting on their laurels. Though the release day is around the corner, King ends our conversation by once again highlighting Portrayal Of Guilt’s prolific nature. Is there already more material in the pipeline, we ask. “Always and forever,” he replies.
We Are Always Alone is out 29th January on Closed Casket Activities. Order here.
Words: Tim Birkbeck