The mounting popularity of portrayal of guilt might be telling of the world we live in. The mixture of roiling hardcore, unhinged extreme metal, and eerie noise rock that the band offered the world with 2018’s full-length debut Let Pain Be Your Guide automatically scared away irregular fans and pop-oriented listeners. And yet the brute strength of that LP struck a chord with fans around the world, leading to tours with Deafheaven and Skeletonwitch. For those seeking typical verse-chorus metal, portrayal of guilt’s success might be a little surprising — as it was for the band themselves.
“We’re never really expecting the best possible outcome when we release an album,” says guitarist-vocalist Matt King. “I don’t really know why people like it so much. As far as everything aside from the music, like the lyrics or whatever, it’s hard to say. I guess you never really know why people like something. I can definitely relate our music to music that I loved when I was younger. It’s hard to think about that. Maybe because it is all over the place. There’s definitely been a couple of people that have talked to me about it, but I guess if people are into the music, that’s great. When I write the lyrics I feel like at some points — later on, not even writing the lyrics but later on, when I listen back to the song, where I think, Man, maybe I need help.”
While Let Pain Be Your Guide was a barrage of fists and teeth, portrayal of guilt’s new album We Are Always Alone has tempered their approach into a gleaming, blood-soaked blade. There’s still plenty of sludgy heaviness, blackened chaos, and hair-raising menace present on tracks like “A Tempting Pain” and “Masochistic Oath,” but the band’s attack is tighter, more emotionally pointed. There’s a sense that portrayal of guilt aren’t lashing out but lashing in, and that they’ve finally found the sound with which they can express the Devil inside themselves.
“We had a lot of touring in between [the two albums], and I think maybe that changed us,” says King. “Maybe we grew up a little bit, in a way. Just from all the touring and all the shit we needed to go through in between.”
When it came time to write We Are Always Alone, was there a specific approach you guys employed? Is there a guiding MO behind the band?
Not really — we have a practice space in town not too far from where I live, so whenever we’re practicing, there’s nothing where we’re like, Let’s go for this, let’s try this, or whatever. We’ll just start with a riff and [the song] will kind of piece itself together. I think that’s why sometimes the songs are all over the place genre-wise. We’re definitely not going for anything particular, that’s for sure. At the core I feel — at least I can speak for myself — there’s a passion for old 2000s screamo. At the core, that’s where the band started, and it evolved from there. At times that’ll come to mind, but realistically, we’ve gone off the deep end at this point.
Do you ever write a song and then have to reel it back from the emo side of things, to keep it portrayal of guilt?
Yes, definitely! We’ve definitely done that multiple times. Like, most of the songs we end up writing, we use, but there’s definitely moments. And for us, that’s being too happy, too positive. Sometimes we’ll come up with something that’s just too triumphant-sounding, and it’s like, No, man, we can’t. We just can’t.
What do you think has been the band’s biggest progression between Let Pain Be Your Guide and We Are Always Alone?
Around the time we did the first album, we were still winging it. When we recorded that album, we were barely a band for like…I wanna say six months, if that. And we sort of rushed into it, just because at the time we started the band, recorded an EP, went on tour pretty much immediately after that, and then just toured consistently for a while. After that, we did a few splits and an EP, so we had a lot of time to write, and I think we figured it out. We never really change how we write. But I will say, what sticks out the most, in my opinion, is how much cleaner and how much better everything sounds. We recorded in an actual studio — for album one, we did record in a studio, but it was our friend’s basement studio, and this time we recorded in an actual studio with a big vocal room and a huge room for drums and guitars. We felt pretty professional about it.
How did all the touring help guide the sound of the new album?
When we started, we were winging it, completely. We did a tour with Skeletonwitch a year or two ago, our first larger tour, and it was a bit more professional. We had to be on time, do certain things, make sure to soundcheck. The last big tour we did was in Europe with Deafheaven and Touche Amore, and that was the most pro thing we’ve ever done. At that point, we were just full-blown adults. I think we have the touring thing down — it’s just a shame that we were unable to grow on that this year!
Is it killing you not to be able to play this album live?
It is, just because the thing that I get most out of touring — what we all get the most out of it — is to travel to places we’ve never been. That’s one of the big things that we’re trying to do with this band. And at first, it wasn’t a big deal, because we already had some plans, and one of them was to record the album. At this point, we definitely want to play shows again, and it’s definitely hurting, but I will say we have been able to channel that energy into other things. Other releases. We’re just trying to stay ahead. That way, by the time touring does come back around, we’ll have multiple releases, and can just stay consistently busy.
For this album, you guys worked with producer Phillip Odom, who you’ve worked with before. What does Phil bring to the table, that you wanted to have him back?
When I met Phil, he was living in Austin. He was recording at a studio space in town, and that’s when he recorded our first EP. Once you get comfortable with somebody, especially somebody who knows what they’re doing, it’s the perfect situation. Me, personally, I’m pretty awkward and sometimes I have trouble articulating what I’m trying to say. But with Phil, I would say something that nobody else would understand, and he would know exactly what I’m talking about. He’d ask me how I want something to sound, and I’d say something like, “I dunno, like a chainsaw cutting through steel.” And he’d say, “Oh, I know what you mean.” We’re all comfortable with him and vice versa. It’s just all about good energy. And with the new record, it was the same way. He came all the way down from LA where he lives now, and it was super easy-going. If we could, we’d record with Phil forever.
What about the record are you most stoked for people to hear?
The songwriting in general, as a whole. I love the fact that we were able to put singles and stuff out before the album came out, but I’m most excited for people to hear he whole thing. Because it was put together in a way where it ‘s start to finish, nonstop. Some of the songwriting includes lighters parts than we’ve had before. There’s elements that we haven’t done before. All around, it’s meant to be just one big piece of music. So I hope that people listen to it from front to back.
Words by Chris Krovatin