Track Premiere & Interview: Portrayal of Guilt – ‘Garden of Despair’

It’s been two years since Decibel caught up with Austin, TX noise mongers Portrayal of Guilt, but the trio have been busy. Following the release of debut full-length Let Pain Be Your Guide, Portrayal of Guilt toured relentlessly, adding splits with Soft Kill and Slow Pistol Fire, plus a collaboration with Street Sects, to their resume along the way. They’re starting off the new year with the release of second album We Are Always Alone, featuring the darkest and most brooding music Portrayal of Guilt have released yet.

Today, Decibel has a premiere of “Garden of Despair,” a cut from the second half of the album. At four minutes, “Garden of Despair” is one of the longest tracks on We Are Always Alone, giving the trio room to experiment with different sounds. Give it a listen below and keep reading for an interview with guitarist and vocalist Matt King. We Are Always Alone is out on January 29 via Closed Casket.

It’s been two years since Portrayal of Guilt released a full-length record; obviously there have been other releases in the downtime. How would you say the band has changed in the time period between full albums?
Since then we’ve done an insane amount of touring. We’ve grown up a lot since then just literally because the amount of touring. We’ve just tried to stay consistent since then. We haven’t really changed how we’ve done things. The touring took a toll because it ages you, basically, but as far as songwriting goes, we do everything the same.

This most recent record we did in an actual studio and we haven’t really done that before, so that would be something we’ve done a better job of. I guess we’re just better at playing now.

You did a few splits and a collaboration with Street Sects, plus an EP [between albums]. Did working with different artists change how you wanted your music to sound? Did you find yourself being influenced by the artists you were doing splits with?
I would say so. We’ve only done splits with Soft Kill, Street Sects and Slow Fire Pistol as well. We did those splits because they’re our friends, but obviously we’re fans of their bands as well.

As far as influencing, definitely, especially with the collaboration stuff. Street Sects in specific, I love them and they’re amazing. I’m into a lot of stuff similar to what they are doing and I wanted to tie that into what we are doing as well. Doing the collab with Street Sects was something that influenced what we’re doing as well. It’s kind of challenging as far as the songwriting and I always liked to do that. A lot of the time when we’re writing, it’s stuff that I can’t even play so I have to learn how to play it as we’re writing the songs.

For splits, we do kind of write differently. When we’re doing a full-length record, at some points we do try to tie songs in together and with splits, it’s one-offs, so we can just go crazy and do whatever we want, I guess.

This record feels more dark and brooding than Let Pain Be Your Guide and your other releases. Were you looking to change things up and make them darker when writing or was that the natural result?
I don’t think we were specifically trying to sound darker. We were already in that dark music spectrum in the first place—at least, I had hoped we were. Maybe this time we just did a better job with it.

The artwork too does a good job with that. For the first album, it’s really bright and blue and not very dark colors—not that we’re even trying to go for that. Chris Taylor, who did the first record, did this one as well and we didn’t even ask for anything specific. We were just like, “Listen to it and do what feels right” and that’s what made sense this time around.

This was recorded before the coronavirus even happened, right?
We wrote it before then, but basically our tour got cancelled and we came home and recorded it a week later.

You mentioned you also recorded it in a studio, which was also a first-time thing for you. Was there an extra sense of urgency because, at that point, no one seemed to know what was going on, or if it would be a year.
It was just a weird situation because we were still on tour playing shows and at the beginning of the tour, we started hearing about it but, “Who knows, hopefully it will be under control,” and by the end it’s like, “Fuck, man, we should probably go home.” We had maybe a week left when we made that choice, so when we got home, our practice space where we keep our gear was like, “We have to go on lockdown so if you want your gear, you need to get it right now.”

We were supposed to record the album in our space and because it was closed, we were kind of screwed, but last minute the guy who recorded us got in touch with a studio who had lost business because of the coronavirus. We were like, “Hey, if you have free time, we would love to take it,” so we just got lucky with that. Nobody knew what was going on.

It went on lockdown right when we got home, so you couldn’t go anywhere or do much. It was definitely a bummer or uncertain feeling, but the studio we recorded in, there were so many windows so itw as super bright and nobody was there, so it was like a nice little getaway. At the same time, we didn’t know what the situation was going to be as far as touring or how long it was going to go, so it was more along the lines of like, “Oh shit, we have a studio we can record in now and we have access to all these things and no one’s going to be around. This is going to be great!”

I wouldn’t say that everything that was going on affected the general vibe because we already had those songs ready to go before. Maybe there are some things that reflect what was going on at the time. Vocally and stuff, I write lyrics after the music is written. It all just came together.

We’re premiering “Garden of Despair.” What is the song about? What was it like writing it?
That song was pretty fun to do. I think it’s a little longer than most of the songs on the album, so there’s a few different things going on. A lot of our songs just come and go, and I feel like this one has a few different interesting paths that it takes. It was a sporadic kind of thing we did.

Lyrically, I had fun with it. It’s not really about anything in particular. I had fun with writing the lyrics, telling a story about a garden of despair. It just describes it within the song.

I was definitely wanting to bring a little Celtic Frost vibe in there. I don’t know if anybody will catch that, but that’s something I brought in there.

A band like yours spends a ton of time on the road. How are you feeling? The record drops later this month and you would normally be on tour for it right now or getting ready to go on tour. What do you do now that you can’t be on the road?
It sucks that we can’t fuckin’ tour on it right now because it would be exciting. We’ve had a year, so I’ve come up with an alternative plan for what we’re trying to do. Once this album comes out, a month or two ago we recorded a song for another split we’re going to do so hopefully we’ll that out with a few months after the album comes out and we’re a little halfway into another full-length so we’re going to try to get another full-length out this year. Any time that we would be touring, we’re just trying to get records out. Who knows when we’ll be able to tour again, but when we do we’ll have a lot of new material.

We just want to write music that we want to write and just do it the way we want to do it and just travel and see as much of the world as we can. Since we can’t, we’re just doing the next best thing, which is just writing more songs. We’re just trying to stay busy, regardless of the situation.