Making black metal whose sole purpose is to satiate the need of a conservative, traditionalist faction of listeners and message-board warriors is about the least metal thing you can do. Giving the people what they want and strictly painting within the lines is neither rebellious nor particularly interesting, and well, kind of pointless. Minneapolis’ False understand this better than most, which is why they’ve never bothered to squeeze themselves into a five-pointed box for the sake of upholding some kind of arbitrary definition of “trueness.” Which is, perhaps, why they’re called False. That doesn’t mean they don’t give a shit; they clearly do, delivering not only some of the most epic and elaborate black metal of the past decade—informed in large part by hardcore and crust-punk—but some of the most musically interesting as well. Take a song like “Hedgecraft,” from their 2015 album Untitled, which sounds as much like a towering rock anthem as it does a blistering black metal battle cry. It’s Emperor by way of Motörhead, and even more fun than that sounds on paper.
False have never followed anyone else’s example except their own, crafting their own soaring anthems on their own time, largely avoiding interviews not out of any manufactured identity but simply because they didn’t feel like it. And on Portent, their new Gilead-released full-length, they use the intense backdrop of black metal to explore something more personal as well as critical of the capitalist society that’s led us down this dark and chaotic path toward the dystopian present. Portent is an exploration of navigating this seemingly ever-detonating minefield, and though it’s often difficult to parse out everything that vocalist Rachel is articulating, it’s the alternate feelings of desperation and determination, triumph and tribulation that comes through powerfully. “It’s a very vulnerable and honest piece,” she says in an Outburn interview. “It’s about assuming your power and assuming your truth and taking that to the furthest extreme that you can.”
In fact, the sheer emotional weight of Portent feels at times like enough motivation to keep pushing through whatever toxic bullshit this rapidly burning world continues to emit into the atmosphere. A collection of three lengthy compositions and one brief outro, Portent is an album for the patient (though it does fit onto just two sides of vinyl comfortably). Though it’s not as if any moment passes by without some thrilling level of intensity, soaring melody or righteous fury. Once False get going, they scarcely slow down, roaring to a gallop on the atmospheric, hook-laden, 10-minute “A Victual To Our Dead Selves” within just the first few seconds. It’s arguably the album’s most accessible point of entry, though what follows is just as gripping. “Rime on the Song of Returning” is a long string of climaxes, one after another, from blistering sprint into a more shoegazing midsection and an eerie, synth-laden bridge.
Only the 16-minute “The Serpent Sting, The Smell of Goat” moves slowly toward its destination, and even that never feels anything less than stunning and impactful, at times feeling more like an ambient doom piece than black metal proper. Oh, but it gets there—spiraling out from a slow-mo intro into moments of post-hardcore dynamics, rock ‘n’ roll immediacy, and a moody gothic textural sensibility. It’s black metal that isn’t wholly unprecedented, but it follows no template other than the one False create for themselves. It’s driven by emotion as much as energy, melody as much as mayhem, and even at its most blistering, it feels restorative. To say it’s “feelgood” black metal isn’t right—music this raw and this intense by nature touches upon something harrowing, dark and uncomfortable. But the end result is energizing, powerful stuff. It’s marathon-runner black metal.