Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better?

Angry Metal Guy 80

It’s hard to have hope sometimes. We live our lives constantly getting up and going, always moving onto the next thing—moths chasing flames that grow more elusive as the dawn approaches. We’re tortured by silence in a screaming year, laced with events of turmoil and perpetual change—a silver silence that holds a mirror up to our faces and our truths. And we don’t always like what we see. It’s hard to have hope when we’re distracted, romanced by the illusion of productivity, blinded by privilege, and shielding our weary eyes from discomfort. This is what makes Svalbard so important; they force us to look.

While easy to dismiss as another Oathbreaker, Bristol hardcore quartet Svalbard channels the heartfelt energy of Modern Life is War, the post-metal meditations of Isis or Glassing, and the blackened and melodic flourishes of Downfall of Gaia. Having released a quiet catalog of two full-lengths, two EPs, and two splits since their 2011 formation, When I Die, Will I Get Better? is Svalbard‘s third full-length. While prior albums One Day All This Will End and It’s Hard to Have Hope felt too much like “best-of” compilations, these Brits streamline their assets into a hard-hitting and emotional hardcore album featuring stunning songcraft and necessary messages.

At their best, Svalbard balances yearning with heavy with its blend of energy and melody, accented by the formidable vocals of guitarists Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan. Tracks like “Open Wound,” “Click Bait,” and “Silent Restraint” succeed in creating a desperately sad atmosphere by means of their sustaining melodies, breakneck pace of D-beats, shredding tremolo, and anguished barks. Meanwhile, “Listen to Someone” and “The Currency of Beauty” rev up the post in slower pacing, Being as an Ocean-esque melodies, and ebb-and-flow dynamics, allowing harmonious clean vocals to shine and using hardcore passages as post-metal-esque climax. “Click Bait” and “Silent Restraint” are also the most blackened of the bunch, offering blazing tremolos and blastbeats alongside a heart-wrenching melody to a cathartic effect. “What Was She Wearing?” is a surprisingly quiet affair whose sound and lyrics painfully reflect the tragedy its scathing title implies, making it one of the most vulnerable moments in Svalbard‘s catalog. Closer “Pearlescent” is a fantastic way to close out the album, emphasizing its breakneck pace with soaring melody, emphasizing its quietly potent promise: “For you, I would die. For you, I will live.”

When I Die, Will I Get Better? poses a difficult question, and for those struggling, Svalbard will strike a chord. A key difference that separates these Brits from similar acts is their unflinching realizations of explicit themes. You won’t find abstract lyrics here, but rather bluntly honest expressions of struggle: mental illness, societal issues, sexism, and above all, solidarity in face of misogyny and abuse. While the band’s first two full-lengths felt tossed together with each distinct track, the streamlined tracklist of When I Die… has a tendency to bleed together, as its focus on the melodic makes it feel like a single thirty-nine-minute track in its dynamic ebbs and flows. You could argue it’s largely the Cherry and Phelan Show, focusing on their vocals and guitar work, but bassist Alex Hefferman and drummer Mark Lilley anchor the bottom end with energy and grace, allowing melodies to shine. Because of the more enhanced melodious dimension, fans of Svalbard‘s earlier and subtler work might find this offering off-putting. However, given the band’s trademark rawness, When I Die… also feels the most human, resolutely facing difficulty while conveying it with melodic vulnerability unseen in much of heavy music.

You could argue that When I Die, Will I Get Better? wears its heart on its sleeve and abandons balance for feels, or that it just feels like another melodic hardcore album in spite of its influences, but the emotional emphasis and rawness speak for themselves. Svalbard has succeeded in creating a heart-wrenching album whose simplicity in D-beats, stunning tremolo, sustained overlays, desperate vocals, and just a dash of post and black is truly refreshing. It’s a fed-up album that stunningly conveys exhaustion, frustration, and melancholy with every fiber while never forsaking its hardcore roots. While it may not be the perfect album or one that you may revisit because of its unflinching vulnerability, its appeal lies in its emotional splatter, one whose yearning chaos meets listeners where they are. And that’s exactly what we need right now: “when all hope remains elusive.”

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 25th, 2020

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Wed Sep 23 15:52:19 GMT 2020