Svalbard
When I Die, Will I Get Better?

“Is this too much?

Is this not enough?

If I don’t cover up,

Does that make it my fault?” 

OOF.

For some time now, Svalbard – led by vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Serena Cherry, have been proving time and time again that real life is far more horrifying and brutal than any fictitious song about murder, torture or monsters could ever be. They’ve boldly and very candidly used their own life experiences to put all the bullshit and injustices they perceive in the world on blast. Through their music, they’ve carried the torch for and been outspoken about a myriad of social issues and movements – and despite the polarization it inevitably creates, they’ve minced absolutely no words about where they stand, and given ZERO fucks about what you, I, or anyone feels about it.

Regardless of where you stand, whether or not you give a shit about what they have to say, isn’t that kinda the point? From the very origins of Metal with Black Sabbath, to giants like Metallica, Sepultura and Megadeth, to more contemporary examples like Rage Against the Machine or Cattle Decapitation, metal and extreme forms of music have always provided an appropriate platform for getting up on a soapbox and airing grievances loudly and aggressively. I’m not saying EVERY metal band needs to take a stance on something through their music – but it can certainly help to channel extreme passion. Svalbard continues to allow personal pain, anger, and physical and emotional trauma to be their collective muse, and have once again created an emotionally explosive and fervid record that is as eye-opening as it is cathartic.

This is a band who have really created a sound that seems to perfectly capture the overall tone and theme of their subject matter – a potent, consuming and sometimes chaotic mix of Hardcore rhythms and sensibilities, Black Metal-inspired blasts and tremolo picking, and Post Metal atmospherics, all woven together with Grind-like bursts of outright vitriol, and airy, introspective melodies that often hit with even more crushing impact. Take the above quote from “What Was She Wearing?”, or a section from “Listen to Someone,” a song that looks at the devastating effects of depression and the need for someone willing and open to truly listen –

“Days without eating.

Days without sleeping.

Days without speaking.” 

These are near DSBM-levels of turmoil and despair, delivered with Serena Cherry’s gentle, airy clean vocal delivery that scream of innocence lost and inner defeat. It’s goddamn heartbreaking!

But when the band lashes out, the effects can certainly be just as powerful. My personal favorite track, “Silent Restraint,” sees Cherry and fellow guitarist and vocalist Liam Phelan screaming their lungs out about the burden of putting on a brave face and masking real inner turmoil and sadness –

“I see you all – beyond this pain.

But I remain trapped – with the monsters in my brain.” 

Credit to both of these guys for an obvious dedication to their vocal work. It sounds like they’re absolutely shredding their vocal chords, but they’re obviously in control of what they’re doing, and it’s pretty damn impressive. This highlights another point about the band – while being as outspoken and open as they are might be enough to get some attention, it takes some real, honest-to-goodness musical chops to keep it, and Svalbard deliver the goods on the end in spades. Those familiar with the band’s prior work aren’t necessarily going to be surprised by anything on this record, but a few small tweaks and additions certainly keep things inspired. While Serena’s distinctive, higher-pitched leads are still on full display, they take on a slightly different tone on this record, sounding almost synth-like, to the point where there’s a section on the song “Open Wounds” where I’m genuinely not sure if it really is a synth or not being layered in. Either way, the effect adds a hypnotic, slightly unsettling  element to the overall sound that just adds to the feeling of anxiety. But as I mentioned earlier – the band’s ability to convey the emotional impact through their music that really sets them apart. Each song is like being hit by a storm – riding an intense ebb and flow of power and aggression, and lulls that let you reach back to the surface for a gasp of air. One minute, you’re totally energized by emphatic defiance on a song like “The Currency of Beauty,” the next you’re in the fetal position wondering  how the world went so wrong on a song like “Throw Your Heart Away.” It’s exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.

I suppose my earlier statement isn’t entirely fair – the lyrics of “Click Bait” certainly suggest that the public backlash, the misrepresentation, the very nature of just wanting the opportunity to say your piece without others having to spin it into something more than it is – it all does weigh on the band. They do care. And yet, they’re still here and still being true to themselves and their art. Regardless of anything else, I will always respect them for that – and I hope the band keeps churning out kickass records like this for years to come. This album may be a fucking heavy listen, but I can’t recommend it enough.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 6th, 2020

Comments

  1. Commented by: J. Mays

    Great review, Steve! I’ve been listening to this one for a little bit now and, yeah it’s pretty heavy in many ways. You put it into better words than I could have.


  2. Commented by: Phil

    Sometimes lyrics really don’t matter. Svalbard puts 100% into every song, that’s why they kickass. I just wish they would get their lazy asses over to the States and play some damn shows.. Would travel anywhere in the states to see them.. I cannot say truthfully that any of their songs from any of their albums suck… One of my favs at the moment, tour with deafheaven!!!!!!!


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