Svalbard – The Weight of the Mask
Release Date: 06/10/2023
Running Time: 44:00
Review by Rory Bentley
2020’s “When I Die Will I Get Better” represented a huge leap forward for Svalbard, garnering critical acclaim and a considerable step up in exposure to the point where this once scrappy Blackened Post-Hardcore outfit now find themselves signed to Nuclear Blast. A large part of this (aside from just being a really fucking good album) can be attributed to the shift towards more melodic and metallic territory. The Black-gaze dreamy melodicism and penchant for huge vocal and guitar hooks which was once given equal billing to squalling noisy Hardcore became the dominant aspect in their sound, gaining them new admirers and lending a grandeur to their songs befitting of the big stages they now find themselves on. In addition to this the heavily politicised lyrics were now twinned with something more raw and personal from guitarist and co-vocalist Serena Cherry. Now no longer a band to watch for the future and established name, the band are now tasked with the tall order of following their explosive third album with something befitting of their status as heavy hitters in modern Metal. On the evidence of “The Weight Of The Mask” Svalbard aren’t going anywhere but up any time soon.
Less of a quantum leap than its predecessor, this record feels more of a fine-tuning of their now established sound. When ‘Faking It’ kicks off proceedings, it is immediately apparent that the band have elected to go bigger with everything. The song is bursting with melody, the tremolo pre-chorus is spine-tinglingly epic and the chorus itself is a widescreen euphoric rush that tugs the hell out of the old heartstrings. The melding of agonized, throat-shredding screams with gorgeous lead guitar lines is an irresistible combination and a superb way to set up the record. The lyrical rumination on the destructive impact of masking depression continues the band’s trajectory away from solely focusing on social issues and looking inward, something which suits the stirring musical backdrop down to the ground.
As ‘Eternal Spirits’ proves though, it’s not all catharsis and pain in the Svalbard camp as the second track acts as a triumphant celebration to fallen Metal icons such as Joey Jordison and Alexei Laho. More driving than the previous track, the Post-Hardcore influence of old is far more present until the elegant clean chorus brings in that cinematic sense of wistful melancholy the band have made their own before closing with a heart-pounding rousing outro that makes you want to raise your drinking horn to those heroes past who are surely laying down some gnarly jams in Valhalla. Anger is great in Metal of course, but you can’t beat a bit of aggressive positivity as well and it’s good to see the band embracing this aesthetic.
Even when the record delves back into the more painful aspects of the human psyche, there is a much more defiant, empowered approach to dealing with these issues. Closing cut ‘To Wilt Beneath The Weight’ is a massive fuck you to depression with the band giving it both barrels from minute one. The harsh vocals on this one are particularly savage, with the mix leaving them naked and exposed like you’re in the vocal booth with Serena and Liamas they scream themselves hoarse. In fact it made me wish the clean vocals were mixed this way in places as well. While the reverb-drenched layered melodies on the likes of ‘How To Swim Down’ are sonically perfect for the Alcest/MONO worship going on around them, they sometimes feel a little too pristine to convey the anguish intended. It’s a minor quibble, but a little bit of passionate but ragged imperfection can go a long way toward hitting you right in the feels.
Overall “The Weight of the Mask” is a very welcome return from a band on a serious hot-streak. The production sounds big-time, the strengths of their diverse sound are magnified further and the continued expansion of lyrical themes is a very welcome addition. Personally I will be hoping the next release steps even further into new territory, but right now this is another superb album by one of the best bands the British Metal/Hardcore scene has produced in a long old time.
01. Faking It
02. Eternal Spirits
05. Lights Out
06. How To Swim Down
07. Be My Tomb
08. Pillar In The Sand
09. To Wilt Beneath The Weight
Serena Cherry – lead guitar, co-lead vocals, backing vocals
Liam Phelan – rhythm guitar, violin, co-lead vocals
Matt Francis – bass
Mark Lilley – drums
Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.