Written by: Izzy
Svalbard are a relatively new face in the world of metal and punk, their first release having been unleashed upon the world in 2014. Since then, they’ve been a consistent talking point for both their gorgeous melodies and blend of neocrust, post-rock, screamo, and blackgaze, as well and their political stances, frequently angering basement-dwelling neckbeard metalheads who proceed to furiously write a tweet about how women are ruining metal--Oops, was gonna try and not get too political on this one. My bad.
When I Die, Will I Get Better? is in many ways a logical trajectory for the band. Elements of post-rock and blackgaze have always been present in their music, starting at their debut One Day This All Will End, becoming more pronounced on their amazing 2018 release It’s Hard to Have Hope, and finally reaching its climax here on their latest. Those influences have become pushed so far to the forefront to the point where I think calling them a neocrust/blackgaze band wouldn’t be too far off, but that descriptor would still be missing something.
‘Neocrust’ is a relatively newer term used to describe a style prominent amongst modern crust bands, wherein the punk elements are still present. But as a whole, neocrust is more metallic, darker, and more melodic, always dancing gracefully hand-in-hand with other genres like black metal, post-rock, sludge and doom metal, screamo, and death metal (of the melodic variety quite commonly). It ebbs and flows between genres in a way where, at some points, it barely feels like you’re listening to punk anymore, and yet everything is still firmly rooted. Artists like His Hero Is Gone, Fall of Efrafa, Ictus, Nux Vomica, and Oathbreaker would all be great examples of this phenomenon, but I think Svalbard may be the best example, if not certainly my favourite one, because they embodied everything this genre has been doing since its inception. They are blurring lines, erasing genre boundaries, and making innovative punk music that defies genre...but that you can still call punk.
As previously mentioned, Svalbard are also band known for tackling issues in their lyrics that are pretty undiscussed in music: things like the predatory nature of unpaid internships, the ramifications of dog breeding purity culture and designer animals, sexual assaulters preying on women at concerts, etc, and that continues on When I Die, Will I Get Better? This album dedicates songs to topics such as: women being used as inflammatory click bait for misogynists, rape apologists shaming and attacking victims for what they were wearing, being gaslit and manipulated by abusive partners, the hypocritical paradox of women being objectified and reduced to their bodies while also being ridiculed and called sluts or narcissists whenever they try to look beautiful, etc.
Mental health is also a frequent subject of their lyrical content, and on this album especially I find the way they describe the constant struggle of depression to be incredibly moving, like the beautiful and anthemic “Listen To Someone” bringing me tear tears on my first few listens, their way of writing songs that reflect the hopelessness of battling mental illness while simultaneously becoming an outlet to uplift you and remind you not to give up, it’s something that just connects with me and seemingly many others too. Being told “even if it doesn’t get better, you will get stronger” is a trope that always hits me right in the heart.
There are few bands I would trust as much as Svalbard to speak on these topics, because throughout their short span as a band they’ve never been ashamed of what they believe, weathering the countless and inevitable waves of enraged comments thrown their way, and continuing to make music that is touching as it is outstanding. They are unparalleled and always leave me amazed and excited for what’s to come. While I love brutish death metal that slams unintelligible lyrics and four-note riffs in your face for half an hour, Svalbard have both substance and talent, and that’s what keeps bringing me back.
Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better? was released Sept. 25th, 2020 from Translation Loss Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!