The freely spilling mess of a psyche melting at erratic intervals as it loosens from the ice of traumatic shock is a very real rebirth of the ‘self’ and a vital blueprint for the artist keen enough to seek meaning in that moment, be it for the sake of accelerating a concrete rejuvenation or to find some newly allowed and more honest path forward. That path could be bleak in its initial expression until that residual oily darkness is exhausted to a pointed catharsis (smeared onto others for effect) or, it can be wisened and bearing nakedness to the point of stark and perpetual exhibition. All healing is possible in the wake of trauma’s cerebellum-smacking brutality but the choice to scream in place, as a nihilistic terror, or lift the self with the hands of others gripped is so rarely made consciously and the easy flow of reactive emotion guides all. A feast in mourning and a grand foreshadowing of what horrors will inevitably come for us all, this ‘Portent’ from Minneapolis, Minnesota postmodernist black metal band False bleeds, mourns, celebrates, and generally flows with the humours of fragile humanity as it spins three richly woven accounts of unceremonious return from ruin.
Though they kicked around an anarcho-black n’ roll wallop within some minor percentage of their ‘Untitled’ (2011) EP the general shaping of False‘s early works arrived where so many United States black metal albums of the time would, in delight of the structures provided by Weakling, Krallice, and the popularity of Wolves in the Throne Room to some degree. That isn’t to suggest they were hangers-on but beyond some heavy, somewhat aimless toying with dissonance on their debut full-length ‘Untitled’ (2015), it wasn’t entirely clear what their core musical identity brought beyond a sharp example of timely and high-quality sounds. The omen of a long-time coming sea-change came with ‘Hunger’ (2017), a 7″ EP of melodic intent and freshened brevity that was uncharacteristic but, more ‘perfected’ than prior material, at least for my own tastes. ‘Portent’ is a full-length that refocuses that newly ‘melodic’ and moderately symphonic black metal style as False pulls from their roots and translates reflective inspiration into a nigh progressive atmospheric black metal album in three over-sized but gloriously affected parts.
“A Victual to our Dead Selves” is a wild moment for the six-piece band as it is probably the most personality driven piece they’ve written to date, upending the symphonic black metal of the late 90’s and re-purposing Norse ethereal synths a la …And Oceans‘ infamous ‘The Symmetry of I, the Circle of O’ into a shower of atmospheric fanfare for the aggressive and frankly majestic opener. In many ways this resembles the finer points of Scandinavian melodic black metal (such as Sacramentum) if molded to fit with the modern vision of atmospheric black metal within the United States this last decade. The first two tracks do a beautiful job of remaining captivating high-speed pulses of melodic black metal guitar riffs, jagged post-black wanderings, and keyboard work that always sits at the highest three dimensional space in the recording, as distant as the occasional accompanying percussion. It isn’t so much a symphonic metal record but a vibrant and intense black metal record from a well-staffed collective. They don’t make an imposing amount of noise for a six person troupe but each member provides meaningful propulsion and/or atmospheric value with their presence.
“The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat” is at once a stroke of genius and a bit of blasphemy against the excitement of the first two pieces. Its more subtle presence isn’t so much a step backwards but a pull back on the reigns for the sake of balancing the full listen. I’m sure it just came out as it is by more natural means than I’d suggest but, its placement feels like a descent from the high the first ~23 minutes of the record provides. The last four minutes of the song do make up for this easing energetic but even at 42 minutes of album I did find myself wanting one more song or, to spin the album again. If I didn’t have that compulsion to repeat the experience I don’t think it would have grown on me and well, of course familiarity is key for actual immersive listening but I wouldn’t say False have ever made such a strong case to be heard.
It’d be easy to see this as a modern black metal record with a pretty picture on the front and little substance within yet once you’re a couple of spins into it most folks will see this as a major point of growth in terms of intimacy, ambition and increasingly distinct personality for False. Can and will they do bigger things? Sure, no doubt this is a hard fought piece accompanied by personal hardships but there is always the potential for greater breakthroughs for the artist who’d suffer past or present. Most of my own personal interest and connection with ‘Portent’ came from the first two pieces which make up more than half of the full experience but I can still give high recommendation for this well above average atmospheric/melodic black metal album and its inspirationally ethereal use of keyboards. For preview I’d suggest starting with “Rime on the Song of Returning” because of how hard it strikes into melodic riffing right from the start.
Bound in exile from ourselves. 3.75/5.0
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