SVALBARD: The Weight of the Mask

The Weight of the Mask



BLACKENED POST-HARDCORE: Someone once described Bristol’s Svalbard as “Envy with more English and less whispering.” Said description filled the room in which it was uttered with snickers of laughter as those deep in the know knew exactly what the speaker was getting at and probably went away cursing themselves for not thinking of the comparison sooner. Seemingly feeling their collective ears burning, the quartet—specifically co-vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry—has moved the clean singing that featured more prominently on previous album When I Die, Will I Get Better? to territory owned and operated by Envy’s renowned vocalist/whispering bard, Tetsuya Fukagawa on “Pillar in the Sand.” The other side of this particular song speaks to Svalbard’s usual: layered melody/harmony/riff lines, oscillating double-bass work, root note bass throbbing, and dueling vocals pitting Cherry against her counterpart Liam Phelan. Only The Weight of the Mask is much more steeped in washes and volleys of loping, effervescent and hummable melody. “November,” “How to Swim Down,” and “Defiance” could be lifts from Envy’s repertoire, the aggression of Mark Lilley’s canon-like kick drums and snare beatdown saving hacks from having to use poetically rote metaphors like “windswept fields and rain-soaked and moon-drenched asphalt” to clog up reviews the way they often clog Envy critiques. Though making concrete distinctions about some of this might be a tough call for the uninitiated were one to translate bits and pieces of these songs into Japanese. 

When Svalbard makes more distinctive moves they undoubtedly come up with the goods. There’s an contemptuous sonic stabs all over tracks like “Lights Out” and “Be My Tomb” that see Cherry/Phelan combining the weaving guitars of Strung Out and Pennywise around the angularity of Botch and Deafheaven, poking highly canorous swirls of sound to the point of agitation with sharp sticks. Other tracks are more direct in their metallic shade. “Faking It” is the album’s blackest and most furious moment with machine gun drums being fed to post-metal orchestration. “Eternal Spirits” possesses similar angst and anger with spidery guitar work contributing to the melodic robustness and wispy clean vocals steering the song towards more dynamic territory that comes with the growth and experience Svalbard has exhibited as their trajectory has risen from scrappy DIY punks to sophisticated orchestrators of metal-and-hardcore-plus. ~ Kevin Stewart-Panko