In the world of metal, blending genres and updating the real meaning of heaviness has been all the rage in recent years with the likes of Deafheaven and Alcest injecting shoegaze’s shimmering melodies into a black metal template, and Code Orange taking hardcore into the realms of industrial metal and electronica. All with stunning results.
Another band that has been mashing up the genres and winning over critics and fans alike is Bristol’s Svalbard. I stumbled across them back in the UK when my friend’s band opened for them in a Birmingham pub and I was an instant convert. I devoured 2018’s It’s Hard to Have Hope and my hopes were high when I sat down to listen to their third album, the brilliantly named When I Die, Will I Get Better?
To say that my expectations were exceeded would be something of an understatement. Svalbard have developed their sound to such an extent that they’ve created a collection of songs that has put When I Die, Will I Get Better? straight to the top of the best releases of 2020. The anger and fury in Serena Cherry’s vocal delivery are complimented perfectly by the tsunami of soaring riffs and the attack of the drums but what takes the record to the next level is the sheer quality of the songwriting and the shifts in emotion as the album progresses.
Svalbard has discovered some secret recipe that allows the music to effortlessly shift from Converge-like brutality to dreamlike post-metal that calls to mind acts like Ride or My Bloody Valentine as much as Oathbreaker and the aforementioned Alcest.
It’s not just the music that manages to find that balance of heaviness and beauty either. For all the pissed-off rage in the lyrical content, there remains a sense of hope and positivity that’s rare to find in the world of hardcore and metal. Cherry has spoken about how she discovered “earth-stops, everything changes, melt-you-to-your-core love” during the creation of the album, with final track, Pearlescent being born from that new chapter in her life.
When I Die, Will I Get Better? is quite simply a triumph. This is a record that sees Svalbard creating a piece of truly outstanding and unique work, affirming them as one of the brightest names on the current hardcore scene. If 2020 needs a soundtrack that captures the bleakness of humanity but still clings to a hope that things can improve, this is that record.
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