As the world never seems to stop getting worse, Svalbard have returned once again to hold up the mirror.
Following on from 2018’s blunt and straight-to-the-point ‘It’s Hard To Have Hope’, Svalbard have continued to pull no punches on their third album, ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’; the first record of hopefully many Holy Roar alumni to be released on Church Road Records following the former label’s sorry and shameful demise.
‘Open Wound’, along with many other songs on here, brings the band’s Alcest influence even further forward. The opening passages and middle lean heavily on their melodic prowess, and we have as much of a shimmering, enveloping soundscape as much as a head banging number. Mark Lilley‘s drumming performance is just one of many components of this song’s strengths.
‘Click Bait’ has more of their driving crust punk influence, whilst not losing the emotional weight and righteous anger that underpins Svalbard‘s music. Not for the first time, we have a powerful tirade against misogynistic discourse.
‘Listen To Someone’ brings out plenty of emotion, which previous tracks like ‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’ brought forward, but that aspect is honed in on even further. ‘Silent Restraint’ again deals in heavy subject matter, and Liam Phelan‘s clean vocals prove to be a great counterpoint to Serena Cherry‘s roars, with both delivering powerful vocal performances that succeed greatly in every aspect across the record.
One of the best things about Svalbard is that you can never second guess any of their subject matters, which applies to ‘What Was She Wearing’. It’s both emotionally hard-hitting, with the chiming guitar lines really delivering on that front, but thematically and musically this fires on all cylinders, tearing into the shallow judgements reserved solely for women by some, and more’s the pity that some people out there still need to hear these messages. When certain other bands are getting slathering praise and column inches for their messaging, Svalbard do it in a much more sobering and affecting way.
‘The Currency Of Beauty’ is another song that has the power to make some listeners think about their own previous behaviour and attitudes, putting its neck on the line to reveal uncomfortable truths. Arguably the peak of the album in every sense of the word, both Cherry and Phelan deliver anger-filled pleas for attitudes to change, and the impact of this song will never leave you.
Closer ‘Pearlescent’ is a song with a majestic post-rock build, something that they’re also masters of, providing a bit of respite to close things out. Their musical palette is just as strong as their convictions.
Musically, ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ continues what made ‘It’s Hard To Have Hope’ great, but without a feeling of stagnating at all. Svalbard are still a relatively new band, and if there’s any justice their message will be heard louder in the coming months and years. Despite this record capturing the throes of despondency and frustration, Svalbard continue to provide hope that things can truly get better.