Since the inception of heavy metal as a genre, roughly 666 subgenres, sub-subgenres, and subs to genres — who mostly spend their time being flogged by bullet belts and wrist spikes while listening to their master’s favorite sub-subgenre-crossover album — have come into existence. Then, of course, many of those tags began to cross-pollinate. More bands have been blackened than pieces of fish in country clubs across the U.S.
The band’s post-metal interests have actually taken even more of a front seat to their hardcore influences, but those roots are still showing regardless of the strength of the dye job. These UK heavy hitters have put together an album that sounds like Clouds Collide hired the gentlemen from Zao as consultants while everyone involved realized how much they love the idea of sprinkling in bright tremolo riffs in the vein of Violet Cold or Deafheaven. Throughout their album, Svalbard establishes harmony between uplifting beauty and morose heaviness.
“Open Wound” unveils their modus operandi by starting with a slow drum intro washed in building guitar notes and wordless clean vocals. About 45-seconds in, a jagged riff-and-drum pattern will have you kicking up dust as you start running around your living room trying to experience the joy of a one-person circle pit.
That tradeoff between lush beautiful stretches and driving heaviness continues throughout the rest of the album in mostly equal measure. Songs like “What Was She Wearing?” put a greater emphasis on an impactful quietude while “Throw Your Heart Away” sticks with the needle more in the red, but the overall balance sits pretty well in the middle. The production of the album can succinctly be described as shimmering, so that even at its heaviest moments there’s a mounting sense of hope that wafts from the speakers.
Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan’s guitar work plants the band firmly in the post-metal department, but Mark Lilly’s simpler driving approach to drums provides a hardcore spine. Their hardcore heart, however, beats squarely in the chest of Cherry. Her lyrics and vocals hold up the genre’s expectation of speaking your mind. Many lyricists opt to write about nothing of any significance while others opt to speak their mind through metaphors and vague words that leave the interpretation open to the listener. Cherry has opted to skip both those categories and make sure her sharpened tongue can land as direct a hit as possible.
“Click Bait” strikes against the type of idiots that still think “female-fronted” is a genre and put nonsense “news” stories on their sites just to stir people up. “Listen to Someone” and “Silent Restraint” both tackle how interactions with others feels while battling depression as well as the internal feeling that you can never recover. As for “What Was She Wearing?,” you can probably pretty easily guess where those well-written words are heading.
The biggest drawback this album faces is that it never reaches the heights of either of the genres it combines. With primarily shorter songs, it never gets to the peak of dynamics and exploration that the post-metal greats do. And the bright luster of the production keeps the heavy parts from cracking concrete as the best hardcore beatdowns would. Their writing style also leaves the whole album constantly feeling like its building and building, but with a softer shorter closer in “Pearlescent,” you’re left without the dramatic finish you felt was coming. What they have created, however, is something that’s wholly Svalbard and a sound that helps them stand apart.
If you wish post-metal songs weren’t so damn long, then you might like Svalbard.
If you wish the toughened sound of hardcore wasn’t afraid to show a softer side, then you might like Svalbard.
If you need a break from gore, space travel, dragons, and esoteric philosophy in your lyrics, then you might like Svalbard.
Despite this closing format, I’m pretty sure Jeff Foxworthy probably would NOT like Svalbard, so there’s one more reason you might.