I used to have my doubts about False.
It’s because I’m what some people would call a fence-sitter. I’ve been one since the first time two little shits asked me to choose between them. I thought it was unfair. I was but a little shit myself and I had never asked somebody to choose me over anybody else. Early on I realized that the common misconception of the fence is that it’s a demarcation line that separates groups of little shits. In reality, the fence confines a small area where all these groups of little shits reside. Outside the fence there is a world that unfolds itself in countless dimensions in its terrifying infinity. In this unfathomable totality the area within the fence is less than a drop in the ocean. It’s a miracle that so many people even know about the fence, let alone live inside its oppressive environment, considering how minuscule and irrelevant it is in the grand scheme of things. Most of the time, we, the fence-sitters, are so far away that we can’t see the fence or hear the squabble over who is the littlest of shits of all fucking time. But we are but little shits ourselves and sometimes we go sit on the fence. That’s how I originally heard about False. And therefore the doubts.
Luckily, that’s how I also bumped into the absolutely magnificent title track of False’s Untitled debut full-length. I thought to myself: “Why waste precious lifetime on clumsy armchair philosophy, when I could just order this LP and spin the shit out of it?”
And order the LP I did. But I still had my doubts about False. The rest of the album wasn’t as magnificent as the end of side B. More importantly, many times it sounded like black metal but didn’t feel like black metal. It felt like some talented American kids – an oxymoron perhaps – had heard Weakling’s Dead as Dreams and wanted to create something similar, the outcome being true in form but not in spirit. However, the music was good if not somewhat messy, so I kept listening, and then for a while I forgot that False ever existed.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there’s a new False track online. I checked it out and thought to myself: “A world without the fence.”
Indeed, the opening song of Portent, False’s sophomore full-length, sounds and feels like black metal. A passing ominous ambient intro fills you with anticipation which soon morphs into that familiar pitch black euphoria after the track picks up with a deceivingly pretty arpeggiated riff and then explodes and shoots into the dark starlit sky with such overwhelming force that is impossible to resist.
As impressive as the album opener “A Victual to Our Dead Selves” is from the first listen, it quickly begins to feel like a prelude to Portent’s real centerpiece, “Rime on the Song of Returning.” The first half of this near 13-minute epic presents one of the most cinematic displays of symphonic black metal mastery I’ve heard on this side of Vargrav’s debut, featuring something I would be ready to call False’s trademark at this point of their career: a tremolo-picked snippet of lead guitar that is as much ear-candy as black metal gets. Halfway through the song it keelhauls the listener almost imperceptibly by way of apocalyptic sludgy chaos that becomes dismantled by the song’s triumphant and atmospheric ending.
The third and final song, “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat,” is no less remarkable but clearly more of a grower than the first pair of compositions. The mid-paced sections require patience from the listener and the fast parts don’t seem to reward you with those sweet leads as much as the preceding 23 minutes of music. The arpeggiated mid-section feels almost boring, and the dramatic post-metallic pre-ending with its subtle guitar hero trickery almost cheap after being bombarded with fast and furious black metal for half an hour. But the way the song ends – with shrapnel fire of tremolo-picked melody and animalistic blast-beats, before fading into the cold night with a beautiful clean chord progression and the ensuing distant piano outro of the whole album – leaves a good taste in your mouth. Every listen makes the finale sound better and better, but for me it hasn’t cracked the level of the first two tracks, at least not yet.
There’s fundamentally nothing wrong with the album, but I have to confess that I’ve never been the biggest fan of Rachel’s vocals even though I respect the fact that she doesn’t hide her voice behind layers of reverb. Also, I do feel False has yet to find their perfect sound. On Untitled the instruments were too much all over the place and Portent is almost its polar opposite with everything firmly in its place, making the record sound a bit flat to my ears, especially with analytical headphones. Still, these are more matters of subjective nitpicking than anything that would make me enjoy the music notably less.
The way every decent piece of recording is deemed as a spectacle these days has become tiring, and Portent is definitely not a spectacle. The last true spectacle in black metal was probably Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta II, and we’ve been graced with better black metal than Portent since that one. None of Portent’s three ambitious songs twist my guts the way the untitled third track of their debut full length did, and I’m not yet certain if it tops that record overall, but luckily I’m a fence-sitter so I don’t need to choose. With all that said, there’s one thing I can swear without any indecisiveness: overall, Portent is one hell of an album.
So, I guess the million dollar question is if Portent is worth your hard-earned 20 bucks or whatever pennies it costs with shipping and insurance. The answer to that depends on what kind of a little shit are you.
I’m the kind of little shit who still has his doubts about False… and pretty soon I’ll be a little shit that owns not one but two of their records.