I won’t out the media outlet I came across that, merely a week into our eleventh month, foolishly teased their “Best Of 2018” list. As I write this, we’re a week away from an album set to drop that will render the over-eager lists null and void in grand, bleak fashion. Let Pain Be Your Guide by the Austin unit Portrayal Of Guilt (Matt King, James Beveridge, Rick Flores, Blake Given) is due out 11/16 via Gilead Media and Holy Roar Records and it’s a genre-bending stunner of extreme music mastery, truly November’s coming fire. On the back of last year’s S/T 3 song EP and the utterly essential singles “Nihilist” and “Chamber Of Misery (Pt. I),” the band have steadily steamrolled their way through both the States and Europe. Having seen them decimate Baltimore some months back, I can attest to the singular and unique fury with which they attack stages. They now find themselves armed with an album that builds both upon their sound and it’s alchemy of purgative bloodletting, a high point in a discography already littered with them. Let Pain Be Your Guide is a visceral and varied meditation on trauma in every sense and just might be the best album of 2018. Recorded by Matt Michel (Majority Rule) in a shockingly short 48 hour period, there’s a clarity and dynamic edge to the flawless sound that manages to sidestep being inorganic or crystalline. With absolutely stunning art provided by Chris Taylor (pageninetynine), Portrayal Of Guilt have long had the co-sign of screamo Hardcore titans, but their debut full-length finds them dragging the swamps of Black Metal, noise rock, Hardcore, Powerviolence, grindcore, and even electronics. Here it is, track by track, blow by crushing blow…
“Daymare” finds the band opening in relatively epic fashion, the four plus minutes thrown down the gauntlet. With it’s ominously cautious bell intro, it calls to mind the table-setting eeriness of Neurosis’ “Stones From The Sky.” Beckoning an altogether shorter but no less exhaustive journey into sonic extremity. Built upon a subtly jangle of guitar a la Hot Cross paired with crypt-escapee vocals, they manage to vacillate between a pummelling doom-laden sound to screamo-inflected grind with ease. The first appearance of the backing vocals bely one of their greatest weapons, as the impossibly low gurgle bubbles up from somewhere I’d never dare seek out.
For every tone-setting second of the intro track, there’s nary a wasted second on the following track. “Among Friends” is an absolute maelstrom of riff and blindingly fast drums that manage being equally tight and loose. There’s a near surprise quality to the melody, however buried and distorted it may be. POG manage here to take the idea of standard song structure, invert it, inject it with a sense of discord, and hurl it down the stairs. Backladen with an absolute anvil heavy bass sound, the rhythm has a mid-paced swing to it that makes it altogether more sinister when the vocals kick in.
There’s a downhill, out of control quality to third track “A Burden” that recalls No Heroes-era Converge as well as Drive Like Jehu, showcasing a band as familiar with noise rock as they are with the lazier touchstones they’re typically attached to. There’s an AmRep quality to the warped and bent riff that ultimately provides the inflamed and gnarled backbone of the track. When paired with the title track, which is a wonderfully nauseating interlude, the album’s devastating midsection comes more clearly into view. A blackened and damaged soundscape, there’s an organic yet inhuman sound in the background, cracked and labored mimicry of a dying breath… truly harrowing stuff.
“Your War” which features Full Of Hell’s Dylan Walker begins with a deceptively simple punk riff that is, in essence, swallowed whole by a tidal wash of violent drumming, before we’re suddenly gifted a bruising interlude of punishing Hardcore. Unexpected nod to the mosh aside, the screeched attack of Scandinavian BM keeps the listener unsettled as it begins it’s serpentine devolution into harsh noise and twisting, failing vocals lobbying to stay alive, aloft above the mangle of sonic fuckery. The willingness to let the song crumble into ash is both daring and compelling, as if each song is but a temple to the moment of its creation, only to be destroyed by the next.
Following the narrative legacy of 2018 single “Chamber of Misery Part I” with a follow-up titled, you guessed it,” Chamber Of Misery Part II.” Again we find the band playing to their myriad strengths, in this case the juxtaposition of brutality and a search for melody in an echo chamber. The song in its entirety plays as a desperate search for understanding and instead settling for the catharsis of self-flagellation. Punishment as reward. “Life Holds Nothing” is as relentless hopeless as it sounds, bringing us as close to straight-up Hardcore, grind, or powerviolence as you’ll find on “Let Pain Be Your Guide.” The backing vocals are again the asset, alternating between the voice of the aggressor and victim.
In the tradition of bands that are capable of being multiple things at once, there’s a world waiting to be had on eighth track “The Hunger.” At once lush and scathing, the industrial is soon chopped and diced to the sound of an increasingly precise kick drum. The soul-possessing metronomic quality is dizzyingly effective, showcasing a band fully capable of conjuring stylistically challenging music. With a backlog of inventive changes, moods, and an unbelievably skilled ability to plum the depths of all genres extreme, one gets the feeling they could write an equally compelling opus of harsh electronics or ambient soundscapes.
As if there needed to be another audial weapon in the band’s arsenal, there’s a Slint/Shellac vibe by way of Majority Rule that’s perfectly buried mere inches below the album’s most densely heavy low-end. The ninth track “Death Is Gentle” suggests that there’s an ease to the release of giving over to death, but being alive means getting the hear the manic insistence of guitar lines like this. There’s a need to insert itself immediately in your mind, a rotten and devouring earworm that will inhabit and haunt the front as much as the recesses.
At nearly four minutes, closing track “Until We’re Dust” is a proper bookend that again confidently flips back through its countless strengths. One feels as if they’re flipping through the faded Polaroids of the albums singular tracks. As much as each clamors for your attention, they also beg to be discarded as whispered exorcisms. At a relatively concise 22 minutes, it manages to walk further and more dangerously into the wilderness of sonic extremity. It’s a fucking masterpiece and there are no genre qualifiers for that.