Austin, Texas’ portrayal of guilt doesn’t fit neatly into genre boxes. Their music, rooted in screamo has begun to morph in the last couple of years into a dark, sinister blend with notes of black metal, noise, and more. Across their prior full-length record, 2018’s Let Pain Be Your Guide, as well as a string of splits, and an EP named Suffering Is A Gift, the results of tinkering and experimentation show themselves more and more. As a result, the Texas trio has carved out their own niche in extreme music—and garnered rabid support in the process.
Even still, for all the band had managed to do to this point, their newest full-length effort, We Are Always Alone, sets an even higher benchmark for the group. Clocking in at under 30 minutes, portrayal of guilt‘s second LP is a terse and caustic display of nihilism. Tracks like «It’s Already Over,» «They Want Us All To Suffer,» and «My Immolation» are personal standouts that showcase their evolving sounds. Forays into blast beats, post-hardcore stylings, harsh and ambient noise, and more inject a thrilling—and often frightening—aura into the best album of 2021 so far.
Metal Injection caught up with vocalist and guitarist, Matt King recently following the release of We Are Always Alone at the end of January. King recently finished up his day of work at a screen printing shop and was kind enough to dive into the record as well as the trajectory of portrayal of guilt and what to expect in the future.
Read our in-depth conversation now and pick up the band’s music and merch from theirs and Closed Casket Activities Bandcamp page.
It’s been a couple of weeks since We Are Always Alone was released. What are you hoping listeners and fans are taking away from the record so far?
MATT KING: Hopefully that it’s better than the first record. For the most part, it’s been positive.
I’m sure it’s always nice having some of the positive praise. How about for you three. What’s it like having this new record out there to the public for you all?
KING: It’s cool. We’ve been sitting on it for a while. When we recorded it our intention was to get it out last year, but we had to keep pushing it because of delays at the plant. That kind of sucked.
We’re proud of it, and it feels good to have new music out. We try to release a consistent amount of music. We had done an EP and a couple of splits in 2019 & early 2020. It’s cool to get feedback and be able to figure out what the next move is going to be, what we want to do, and all of that.
You mentioned the splits from 2019 and the Suffering Is A Gift EP. What does this full-length record provide for you guys compared to some of these splits or the EPs?
KING: We had recorded the EP & both splits in our practice space with our friend, Phillip Odom. He would drive down to Austin from LA and record us in our spot, but this time because it was closed because of the lockdown, we had to make a few calls and eventually got hooked up with a studio.
We were able to record in a studio this time—that’s the most significant difference. We were never very picky about the quality of our recordings when we started. We were just tracking songs, recording them, and then touring constantly. This time we had nothing else going on, so the studio made more sense.
You stated in previous interviews before Portrayal of Guilt’s music just kind of organically occurs, but in sitting down to write and record this new record, was there anything that you, James, or Alex wanted to really capture or convey with this one specifically?
KING: Realistically, we just wanted to write a record that would stand the test of time. We did our best with what we had in the studio. That’s what we were going for most if anything. Good performance is what our main focus was.
I have to imagine being in the studio makes a big difference. I know you guys experimented a little bit with instrumentation and vocal delivery, which is pretty apparent on this album as well. Another big area that I’ve kind of noticed a little bit more of is the electronics and sampling side of things with this album. Was there a conscious push to include more of these elements in the record versus older material?
KING: Yeah, definitely. For the first album, I did all of the samples and noise myself. Eventually, we were on tour so often that I couldn’t find any extra time to write when we were at home. We would come home from tours and go straight back to working our jobs while staying consistent with practice to make sure we were going to sound good on the next one.
For this record, I hit up our friend Mack (Chami). He has some amazing projects (God Is War, Terror Cell Unit, Koufar). I’m a big fan of his and we were lucky enough to have been able to collaborate with him on this. All of the noise in between the songs, that’s all him.
He and I went back and forth a bunch. The general idea was for it to be an album that you simply listen to from start to finish and the noise would act as a score to a movie, except it’s a score to an album.
Is the plan going forward to collaborate more with Mack, or are you hoping to kind of take the helm on some of the electronic side of things going forward?
KING: We’ve already talked to Mack about doing some more stuff with us, he’s fucking amazing. I think on the next album I’ll also try to pick it back up. We’ll probably work with multiple people moving forward.
It’s kind of like how you get to work with different artists on shirt designs and other collaborations. It’s cool to be able to work with artists that you enjoy yourself.
They kind of give their own little signature, too.
KING: Yeah, exactly.
You mentioned it’s not so much a singles album, even though there were a couple, as well as the noise and electronics giving a score to the album itself. But the first singles for the album, «It’s Already Over» and «Masochistic Oath» were coupled with a short horror film that was directed by Craig Murray. Where did this idea to create a film for these singles come from?
KING: When we write songs, there’s no preconceived idea of what we’re trying to do, aside from creating genuinely scary-sounding music. When I was younger, my parents would throw on a “Sounds of Halloween” record every Halloween and it would scare the shit out of me.
When you watch horror movies or movies with darker themes, the score generally sets the vibe and can sometimes make you feel a certain way—maybe give you anxiety or scare you. That’s one of the things we’re working on. I have always felt that our music could act as a score for a movie or we could score one ourselves, that’s the dream.
I had seen some of Craig’s videos before. I went through his entire portfolio, I love his shit. I hit him up and gave him the general idea, he came up with the treatment and it went on from there. It ended up great! We’re probably going to stick to the idea of having our music act as scores to the videos rather than the other way around.
Plus, it’s a great way to build that portfolio a little bit, right? To show your music can score a full-length film.
KING: Yeah, exactly.
Going back to that idea, you mentioned music and movie scores that would scare the shit out of you. What are some of those examples growing up that were scary for you?
KING: I don’t want to say I was a wimp when I was little, but I was definitely scared by a ton of horror movies. Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Halloween to name a few.
I’m a coward. I can’t sit and watch horror movies. I can sit and listen to scary music all day long. But you can ask anybody, I’m the dude on the couch with fingers over my eyes screaming at the TV. I can get through like one or two classic ones now—now that I’m like 30 years old.
Stuff like The Shining or The Thing. There’s no way I’m watching that at 10 years old—or twenty for that matter.
KING: Yeah, that’s how I felt.
With trying to create scary music, darker ambiance, and things of that nature and also tying in this idea of collaborations. Are there people or groups or a dream list of individuals that you would want to try and work with that could encapsulate this idea that you all have?
KING: Oh, yeah! I thought it would be fucking next level to collaborate with John Carpenter if it were possible. If we could do an album with all noise and electronics by him—now that would be some shit. That’s really the dream right there. Obviously, it’d be cool to work with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross somehow, but I don’t know how realistic that is [laughs].
John Carpenter might not even be realistic, but if there’s a way to make it happen, hopefully, it could.
We’ll start putting the feelers out there and see if somebody knows somebody who knows somebody. In addition to the movies and the scary music and you listen to a lot of screamo music, I also recently learned you’re quite a fan of KoRn.
KING: [Laughs] Oh, yeah.
Are we going to see Portrayal of Guilt break out some scatting or a «Freak on a Leash» cover?
KING: Probably no scatting or covers. Not that long ago, we did talk about doing a split with another band and only doing KoRn covers but I will say we have another split on the way that sounds a little similar.
It’s their riffs that I’m really attracted to. They’re just so weird and scary at the same time. I can definitely say I’m trying to include more elements that may remind someone of KoRn into the picture.
That presents a whole lot of new horizons for the band.
KING: Oh, yeah, definitely.
I feel like we’re roughly the same age so I’m guessing you also kind of grew up on KoRn or Slipknot and things like that. I remember being like a pre-teen and hearing like Life Is Peachy and Iowa and that stuff was scary as hell right out of the gate.
KING: Yeah, I fucking love that. At the time my parents wouldn’t let me buy those albums because they had a parental advisory sticker on them, but eventually, they caved. You open up the insert of the CD and the lyrics are straight-up insane. To this day, you’re just like, “Dear God…”
So being 12 and reading those probably weren’t a good thing…
[Laughs] Yeah, probably not. It might potentially have some long-term effects.
KING: [Laughs] Yeah.
What other bands from that era—that kind of nü-metal, turn-of-the-century group of bands—that you also find yourself attached to?
KING: It was mainly KoRn, but it was such a weird group. It wasn’t even just nü-metal. There was KoRn, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, very lightly Papa Roach—obviously, they had that song “Last Resort” that was everywhere. There was Static-X. At the same time, I was listening to fucking Kid Rock because he had “Bawitdaba” and that cowboy track out. It was a weird group, but I think it was all inspired by watching MTV. I mean, clearly, because all of that stuff was on TRL.
It’s really interesting to sit and talk to people and see their entry points or this like six degrees of separation from the music we’re all involved in now.
KING: Yeah. Seriously.
I find it really hard to believe these kids like going into kindergarten with Watain demos. I always find it really interesting to hear how people got into heavy metal and other genres like that. I definitely remember a lot of that stuff going on, like TRL and the music videos on VH1, or if I stayed up late enough while Headbanger’s Ball was still a thing.
KING: Yeah, I think that’s why we all got into it because it was on TV and it was that accessible—music videos 24/7.
Shifting back to Portrayal of Guilt. I know the record has just come out, but I’ve read, heard, and you’ve mentioned earlier already you’re lining up another full-length record. How does We Are Always Alone set the stage for the next full-length record or I guess even in this case, the KoRn-sounding split?
KING: [Laughs] I really don’t even know because the fact that we even have releases that kind of make sense sitting in a group together is weird because we’re not really trying to follow up with anything in particular.
It just ended up being this dark, weird record, which is pretty sick, but I can’t even say that’s what we were going for—it just kind of happened. With the next record, I couldn’t say. What I do know is that we’re going to have to be consistent with that kind of quality now that we have a record that sounds good. That’s the main thing we’ll be focusing on.
It feels like a bit of a benchmark in a way or a turning point.
KING: Hopefully by now we’re beginning to set ourselves apart from everyone else.
I would argue that you all have been doing that for a few years now. Looking back to the last full-length and then everything you guys have done in between with Street Sects, Soft Kill, and the other splits and EPs, you guys in a very savvy way, have carved out this really cool niche in extreme music for yourself.
KING: Yeah, that’s the idea—to create our own path and do our own thing without paying attention to anything else.