Svalbard-The Weight of the Mask album review and interview By Mark J. FFO: Brilliant emotive, crushing and intense blackgaze/post-hardcore.


Svalbard-The Weight of the Mask album review and interview By Mark J. FFO: Brilliant emotive, crushing and intense blackgaze/post-hardcore.

Svalbard is a supreme force of a band and this fourth album and first on Nuclear Blast Records is a dark, atmospheric, haunting and cohesive extreme music masterpiece. Since 2011, this band from Bristol hasn't taken a step wrong and is a robust mix of the grim and the light; a mix of post-hardcore/metal, neo-crust and black metal. The dual vocals are very much in your face, sharp-as-hell songwriting combined with intelligent and super reflective lyrics that touch on personal and sociopolitical topics. 

The mature band is obviously a super tight unit based on the never-ending vigorous riff assaults, a seismic rhythm section and a definitive sense of emotive balance across this album. The contrasts contained across the nine tracks are sublime and The Weight of the Mask succeeds where so many bands fail. Often bands that dip in or mix genres end up with a clouded, muddy mess that ticks the boxes but fails to ignite any deep or resonating end product. This album is purposeful, well thought out and executed with laser precision. Cliche as it is, the band are very clearly passionate about their craft from both their live performances and this masterpiece of extreme music. 

Rarely do albums start so strongly, particularly with two stellar singles. Faking It kicks off proceedings with its hot and realistic take on the sickening chokehold of feeling like you have to fake emotions when you are in a low mood or depressed, but it has a broader commentary on social media and its pretend vision of everything being so perfect and paradise-like as portrayed on many of these outlets. This is one of many layered songs, both lyrically and musically. As in the interview below, Serena indicates that the album is more about fighting your demons and the lyrical content portrays this very clearly. No wishy-washy lyrics with hidden meaning, the emotion pours out so raw and as acerbic as the severely belligerent music contained in this release. The track is a magnificent rollercoaster of post-hardcore and is grim, yet celebratory. 

Eternal Spirits is up next, also a single and equally visually astounding video is a glorious reminder(well my take on it) of those musical peers who are no longer here and as a musician, this gets me right in the heart. I mean check the lyrics:

Your legacy lives in our hearts
Every person you inspired to pick up an instrument
Every person who is still alive
Because of your words
Of your songs
Of your life
The passion you gave
Forever lives on
We carry your torch held high
Now that you are gone
The music you gave
Forever lives on
We carry your torch held high
Now that you are gone
Ash to ash
Dust to dust
You will always be alive in us
Ash to ashes
Dust to fucking dust
You will always be alive in us

Sonically this classic track walks the line between neo-crust and gripping blackened hardcore with the first run of Serena's clean vocals which as always are perfectly balanced by Liam's barking vocals and Serena's death growls. Also, the ending is damn epic, with some dramatic black metal riffs and tone. 

Svalbard certainly embraces their shoegazey side on this release and Defiance, Pillar in The Sand and November are all the better for this. This fine balance of sadness vs celebration or beauty vs brutality is there in spades, and this melodic abrasion is wondrous. Often there are sonic waves of distortion, swirling reverb and damn spacey and dreamy vocals. Influences as varied as Lush, The Verve, Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine and modern gems Cloakroom. Skill certainly needs to be top-tier to mix harmony, blast beats and silky vocals. One must also tip their hat to frankly spectacular production and mastering on this album as much as the gifted songwriting as everything sounds so dynamic, well placed and positioned. Even the track listing makes everything flow so well. Again, this is why the album is a certified masterpiece.

Lights Out is another raw gem, lyrically a deep cut and the journey between blazing post-hardcore and total Slowdive/Ride worship certainly took my breath away. The sonic wash of downtempo vs uptempo was a joy to hear. Touching on a recurring theme of majestic vs melancholic, you can clearly hear and feel that this album is about grief, depression and even trauma. Whilst the whole release is a superb highlight, I also really adored Be My Tomb, it reminds me of early Deafheaven with its exhilarating energy and is almost a poppy black metal track. These contradictions make this album such a standout. 

Standout is one of many words you could use on the magical How to Swim Down which also has a touching animated video that is awesome. This starry indie shoegazey or noisy pop gem is quite the journey and it drips emotion from start to textured end. 

But the poignant track that really left its mark and like a movie that has you talking and reflecting for days, To Wilt Beneath The Weight closes the album and is one of many things; Svalbard's finest ever song, one of the genre's best tracks and totally unforgettable and peerless. This exhilarating song takes everything the band has done in their career and showcases it as a resume for one of the world's elite current bands in extreme music. Musically it balances out screaming tremolo riffs with melodic crescendos that are almost black metal shoegaze, but equally catchy, rocking and splendidly haunting. 

Vocally this is again their finest hour by destroying you initially with angry vitriolic post-hardcore vocals. Then both vocalists twist and meld the tension together so perfectly and turn it on its head by slowing down the tempo and repeating the song lyrics until it sinks into your every pore. Then there is that main soul-piercing, but warm bittersweet blackgaze guitar riff. Intentionally this drives the track as much as the sheer quality of the drums on this track(that said both the bass and drum craft across this release are phenomenal) which is an absolutely well-spent journey. Then we have the exquisitely soul-stirring lyrics on this track that the writer could completely relate to and to be honest, had me both in tears and smiling at the same time:

As I stand here all I see
Is everything I left behind me
Everything I sacrificed
So much loss for just one fragile cause

I worked so hard 
but it doesn't work
So much loss for just one cause
So much loss

A flower wilting beneath the weight 
A flower wilting beneath the weight
of this sinking ship
It pulls me down
It pulls me down away from you
And the loneliness, it makes me stupid

Completely at the mercy
Of every form of insincerity
Completely at the mercy
Of every form of insincerity

Maintaining this illusion 
makes me manic and weak
So I guess all that's left
 is for me to grit my teeth

Grit my teeth 
whеn they've just been broken
Soldiеr on in the face of fear
Grit my teeth 
whеn they've just been broken
Soldiеr on in the face of fear

Too much is all it takes to be here
How much will it cost to persevere?
Too much is all it takes to be here
How much will it cost to persevere?

A flower wilting beneath the weight of this sinking ship
I can't keep drowning for this

I mean that is intense and mind-blowing and the vivid rawness contained in the words is astounding. Kudos to the band to be so damn honest, and also for writing songs so many of us can relate to. As we discussed in the interview with Serena, in extreme music there is a definite place for gore, demon possession and all that fine nonsense; but the chance to connect with the music by writing about how difficult life can be is actually more powerful and empowering. There is a wild and fervent change in tempo at the 3:30 min mark, again with the drums leading the frenzied tension into battle as we head back to the first verse of this dominant anthem. Whilst this is only a brief change, these ingenious nuances of this gifted band show how they excel at their craft by focusing on creating dense and passionate emotional rollercoasters on every track. Nothing is throwaway, on-trend or attention-seeking and we thank Svalbard for that fact.

The album is out now and you deserve it, it is a classic release that just gets better with each listen.

Grab it here in various formats:

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Interview with Serena from Svalbard

Now watch this brilliant interview with Serena Cherry from the band, she was engaging, honest and as passionate about the band as you would expect. A lovely interview free of bullshit and we covered many subjects:

-How the band cannot wait to play the whole album live
-The recording and creative process behind this amazing album
-Themes on the album and the deep contrasts across the release
-The excitement and real pinch-me moment of signing to Nuclear Blast Records

-How the album is not diluted, and how it contains both the band's heaviest and lightest tracks at the same time
-Various shoegaze influences on this album and how Serena's mother used to play her Lush and how that comes through in the band's sound 
-Serena's first journeys with bands from prog to black metal
-how it's great not to be a pigeonholed band 

-Lyrical depth and the importance of addressing lived experience in lyrics be it depression, mental health or trauma
-The brilliance of the track Faking It and Reality vs Social Media etc
-What's next the European/UK tour circuit etc
-News of hell yes, an Australian tour in 2024...HELL YES!!!!!

-Career highlights so far include: Hellfest, Inferno Festival and touring with the brilliant Cult of Luna and Russian Circles
-Art and Music and their intersection, the album cover art and the band's staggering music videos

And much more...

Watch here:

and keep your eyes peeled for the tour announcement in 2024.