British metal is thriving right now. The scene is creaking under the weight of exceptional young bands who have something to say and are pushing heavy music in new directions, and Svalbard are right on the frontline. The Bristol band have made three scene- defining records that have forged a blackened and blissful post-metal sound that’s now recognisably their own. Tackling everything from animal rights to misogyny and mental health, they’ve made an icon out of vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry, who has emerged as one of metal’s most passionate lyricists and voices.
2020’s When I Die, Will I Get Better? was written during a difficult period for Serena, and she has confirmed The Weight Of The Mask delves in deeper into the depression and isolation that manifested during the pandemic and has remained a part of her life ever since. Faking It feels like a raw nerve, right there next to the ear, opening the album with a shimmering wall of sound that lays desperate fears out on the slab under unforgiving light.
That emotional depth is palpable in the contrasting shades of Svalbard’s sound. The unhinged heaviness of Defiance and Lights Out rages against the echoing vulnerability of Pillar In The Sand, where Serena sings: ‘Hell is always in my heart.’ But the band have never stripped things back before as they do on November. Her voice is almost inaudible, buried under layers of incandescence and beauty. She sings of a ‘hollow ache’ that simply won’t subside, no matter what she tries, struggling to stay afloat against a relentless tide.
This is simultaneously the prettiest and bleakest Svalbard have sounded to date, but it’s testament to just how much the band have grown as songwriters. The album hangs together cohesively and purposefully, an exercise of extremes that never offers answers, but that stands as a stunning monument to the human experience.