Review Summary: Cruel mischief
It’s not immediately obvious, the streak of cruel mischief that Let Pain Be Your Guide
and its blackened hardcore wear. At first glance, it does no more, and also no less, than expel in agony the ugly contents of its stomach (literally; note the retching at the end of “Your War”). The lyrics appear to be straightforward accounts of hopelessness and suffering. The performances are vehement; searing riffs, shrieks, and blast beats meet sludgy slowdowns and alarmingly low growls, all grounded by remarkably intricate and diverse drumming.
The point on vehemence becomes surprisingly important, reaching beyond any implications for Portrayal of Guilt’s technical abilities. After many, many listens, I kept wondering why the terms “over-the-top” and “enthusiastic” were popping up in my head despite their ill-fitting connotations — the former suggesting that the music is somehow maudlin, sickeningly emotional, and the latter simply being too cheery for an ostensibly bleak album. But I couldn’t shake off the sense that Let Pain Be Your Guide
was disturbingly energized. Maybe it was the way “Daymare” leapt into existence, a dead horse somehow still galloping. Maybe it was the seductive grooves on “Among Friends” and “A Burden”; an unusually optimistic-sounding riff in “Life Holds Nothing”; the punctuating gutturals on what should have been a song of respite, “Chamber of Misery (Pt. II).”
A comparison to two peers may be revealing. Totem Skin could be perceived as “energetic”, Plebeian Grandstand as “bleak”; interestingly, both terms can also be applied to Let Pain Be Your Guide
. The difference, I think, is that in the aforementioned two bands, those characteristics wear earnest faces — they demand to be taken seriously, at face value if you will. Let Pain Be Your Guide
, on the other hand, parades its outpourings, intentionally amps up the doom and gloom to near-excessive levels, and what it directly presents may not be what you are supposed to feel. In this sense, the album exploits pain and suffering, but is not itself an earnest portrayal of how it feels to experience those things. Listening to Let Pain Be Your Guide
is akin to peering into the mind and machinations of a cruel puppet-master, not to an act of sympathizing with the downtrodden. Visible string-pulling may be seen as contrived, but it is the very spectacle on display here — there’s a mockery being made of the notion of conjuring bleakness and willing your audience to feel it. But this mockery isn’t necessarily earnest, either; Portrayal of Guilt tread close to what they may be satirizing, and they may be very well laughing at themselves.
And perhaps it’s because of disingenuousness that Let Pain Be Your Guide
is an evasive work — what are
we supposed to feel, exactly? If letting ourselves be overcome by the bleakness is too mindless and melodramatic, then what else? Sadistic enjoyment in watching embodiments of pain getting caged and displayed? At any rate, I’m not even sure if the listener escapes censure — they are, after all, complicit in an absurd scheme.