When Nietzsche declared that “God is dead,” he wasn’t necessarily expressing an atheistic position but responding to the post-Darwinian, post-Marxist climate of the late-19th Century Western world. Rationality was the paradigm de jour, antiquating prescribed faith. In this way, the 20th Century dawned amidst a brand of secular Gnosticism. Over the years, Nietzsche’s proclamation has served as a rallying call to many, including metal artists from Black Sabbath to current acts, a mantra retroactively interpreted and embraced as anti-puritanical (which it was), nihilistic (which, strictly speaking, it wasn’t), and misanthropic (was and wasn’t, depending on the subject in question). In short, God is still dead or dying in 2021, and the freedoms, uncertainties, and vacuities that accompany this saga are as present as ever.
If Nietzsche is metal’s patron of antitheism, including a rejection of the racialized and politicized hierarchies of Christianity, then William Blake is the advocate for metal’s alignment with the antihero Satan; or, more precisely, the concept of Satan, which exists as a counter to majoritarian self-righteousness and Christian/capitalistic exclusivism. Milton’s Paradise Lost, and particularly Milton’s complex depiction of Satan, has also, over decades, become part of metal’s subtext. At the heart of the Satan story is a precedent of arbitrary banishment, that one could be ousted from paradise for questioning the spiritual or social status quo. That is, in biblical terms, the expression of individuality is the precursor to exile. The confluence of Nietzsche’s “God is dead” manifesto and the Blakean-Miltonic portraiture of Satan forms a potent narrative, the perfect vehicle for metal’s subversive nature.
With their 2018 debut, Let Pain Be Your Guide, Portrayal of Guilt offered a striking amalgam of metal and screamo/hardcore sources, along with oblique allusions to the funereal atmospherics of late-70’s post-punk. With their second album, We Are Always Alone, released earlier this year, they streamlined the templates of LPBYG, continuing to craft riveting sonic collages. Their latest LP, Christfucker, is a further and consummate refinement, resulting in a milestone of seamless eclecticism and uncompromising savagery.
The opening track is a 30-second intro brimming with tectonic rumbles and lupine growls, a foreboding welter bubbling from the polluted earth. On first proper song “The Sixth Circle”, Matt King’s wiry guitar riff momentarily points to new-wave articulations. Quickly, however, as additional instrumentation joins the mix, the soundscape turns hypnotically cacophonous. With “Sadist”, the band launches into unrestrained aggression. Midway through the piece, a lone guitar riff offers a brief yet still adrenalized lull before Blake Given on bass and James Beveridge on drums rejoin, the trio reveling in undiluted rancor: a juggernaut on steroids.
“Fall from Grace” similarly bashes and pounds, King shrieking while the band transitions from stentorian and speed-focused rhythms to an almost-ebullient but still tonally disturbing interlude. The band sustains their head-splitting MO while spotlighting an affinity for understatedly intricate composition. “The Crucifixion” occurs as a mock-tribute to Christ’s suffering and an evisceration of the Anglicized tableau: a long-haired, blue-eyed, and white-skinned man hanging from a Euro-adorned cross.
The album ends with “Possession”, King veering from a bass-y, semi-spoken-word delivery to a meltdown-inducing snarl. The band interweaves clean and overdriven sounds and pseudo-spacious/hyper-maximal arrangements. As the track unfolds, they land on a repetitive riff that grows more urgent with each reiteration, then segue into overtly violent instrumentation, the track blanketed in dystopian distortion. King hisses and gnarrs, cursing the universe as he battles a storm of inflammatory despondence and toxic fury.
On second thought: God and Satan probably committed mutual suicide sometime during the past decade, perishing in each other’s arms of wrist-slashes or a heroin overdose, corpses rotting in the ruins of a once-legendary city. Holiness and unholiness are equally defunct. Heaven and hell have been exposed as little more than Skinnerian reinforcements. What remains? Greater demand than supply re: love, security, belonging? Technology as the new ‘opiate of the masses’? Corporatism as the organizing force of the 21st Century? The singular moment stretches like the looping eternity it is. One survives sameness, ennui, banality. Or one vanishes beneath their crushing weight. Portrayal of Guilt provides the soundtrack for our contemporary nightmare.