Let’s start with a statement: there was no reason for False to make this album. And by “this album” I mean Portent. There are plenty of reasons for the Minneapolis black metal six-piece to record a second full-length, but they could have easily stayed the furious course they were on and kept things as they were, and I’m sure they would have been just fine. Instead, and maybe to no one’s surprise, they took all the rage and fury and bound it with majestic melodies and structure, which rather than keeping the songs shackled to the ground, allows them to fly. All of which goes to say Portent is the best thing False have done to date.
It’s not like there weren’t any signposts leading to this revelation of an album. After the utter devastation of their debut EP and untitled full-length in 2015 False were already at the forefront of a revolution of US melodic black metal. But for my money the movement into new waters came with 2017’s Hunger EP. Over the two brutal tracks lay a level of economy and robust production that brought a clarity to the songs that allowed the full measure of the band’s complexity to shine through. And although Portent has the collective moving back to massive, epic song lengths and structures the lessons learned from the brevity and immediacy of the EP are apparent at every turn.
Those lessons are audible right at the start. “A Victual For Our Dead Selves” feels expansive, each instrument distinct yet cohesive, laying a solid melodic black metal foundation for Rachel’s venomous vocals. The song slips through cracks of second wave black metal but never gets stuck meandering; there are notes of triumph and even the faint but unmistakable glint of guitar heroics. The track feels short despite being over 10 minutes long, it feels as though they could have extended themes and ideas even further.
Which they do, in spades. “Rime On The Song of Returning” almost feels like another movement, one with more tricks and turns. There’s an anthemic quality as leads blur the background until around the seven minute mark where False plummet to the depths with a doom riff that feels boiled in the ovens of Hell. The drums puncture the guitars and bass through the speakers, each jab a flash of pain and anguish. The song’s eventual ascent back to a rousing conclusion still carries that pain, and feels like war survived but not won. “The Serpent Sting, The Smell Of Goat” provides even greater heights of musical drama, beginning with a post-metal intro that borders on blackgaze before blasting into a frigid old school bludgeoning. But even between blast beats there’s room to hear the intricacies, the way the compositions and arrangements speak to a fragile construction on the verge of breaking apart. Riffs gallop against ascending chords and keyboards cover the empty spaces with a majestic vibe that you wouldn’t conceive of hearing from False a few years ago.
And that’s the trick, isn’t it? To put aside the safe, the comfortable, the things you know you can execute without breaking a sweat and push to a new frontier, a new level where you risk alienation, breaking an established trust. False could have done that with Portent and the usual accolades would no doubt come in. Instead they did what the best bands do: they stretch further, reach for heights that seem unattainable. And in doing so they just crafted the album of their careers.