Oct 062023

Recommended for fans of: Alcest, Oathbreaker, So Hideous

First off, I have to apologise for the lateness of this particular edition of The Synn Report – I simply didn’t have time to write very much while I was overseas last week.

However, considering that Svalbard are releasing their fourth – and arguably finest – album today, it seemed like an opportune time to take a deep-dive into their discography (and, potentially, reassess some of the words I’ve written about them previously).

There’s no question that the Bristol-born quarter have proved somewhat divisive at times – their punky fusion of Post-Metal, Post-Hardcore, and Post-Black often causing consternation amongst the “purists”, while their poignant, painfully honest lyrics have sometimes been accused of being a little too on the nose – but the raw energy, and equally raw emotion, underpinning everything they do is something that simply cannot be denied.

So if you’re a looking for a band who wear their collective heart on their sleeve, but also don’t pull their punches – musically or lyrically – then Svalbard should be just what you’ve been searching for.


The band wasted little time introducing themselves to their listeners on their debut EP, with the brittle Post-Rock-meets-Post-Black-Metal melodies which introduce “Perspective” quickly giving way to a punchy, punk-fuelled Post-Hardcore gallop broken-up by multiple rhythmic shifts and passages of moody ambience, all topped off with Serena Cherry’s heartfelt howls of conviction and catharsis.

The gleaming melodic overtones and gripping crust-punk influences of “Disparity” quickly combine to grant the song a sense of inescapable urgency and irresistible energy, while the brooding chords and simmering atmosphere of “The Vanishing Point” find the group making more space and giving themselves more room to explore the more Post-Rock/Post-Metal inspired side of their sound, all building towards a captivating emotional crescendo.

And although the band’s sound is definitely more rooted in the Hardcore end of the spectrum than the metallic one at this point, there’s no questioning the way in which the energetic riffage and effervescent tremolo melodies driving tracks like “Expect Equal Respect” and “The Damage Done” situate Svalbard as close-cousins, in spirit if not always in sound, to the likes of AlcestDeafheaven, and such.

The use of ethereal clean vocals throughout “Unrequited” in particular finds the group dipping their toes into the same soothing waters as Neige and co., while the shift from gorgeously gloomy ambience to propulsive metallic power during the second half of “Unnatural Light” is a perfect example of the sort of light-and-shade, give-and-take songwriting which makes so much of this album (and so much of the Post-Metal and Post-Black Metal genres) so effective at tugging at your heartstrings.

Finishing things off with the wholly-instrumental, almost-but-not-quite symphonic, sounds of “Lily” (where those So Hideous comparisons begin to take root) One Day All This Will End may not be the band’s best album (that’s still to come) but it remains a vital first step on their journey to becoming who they are today.


Equal parts unbridled passion and unwavering integrity, Svalbard’s second album pushes the band’s signature blend of searing Post-Hardcore and soaring Post-Rock (all accented with an added metallic edge) to new heights, beginning with the fiery melodic riffs and driving drums (with sticksman Mark Lilley whipping up an absolute storm behind the kit) of “Unpaid Intern”, after which the Post-Black Metal inspired blend of blastbeats and ambience which makes up “Revenge Porn” steps up to show bands like Deafheaven and Møl how things should be done.

As always, the outspoken and unapologetic lyrics on this album find the band wearing their collective convictions loudly and proudly, with multi-talented vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry (very much the group’s not-so-secret weapon) confronting issues of sexual violence, corporate greed, and bodily autonomy on songs like the furious “Feminazi” and the hauntingly atmospheric, harrowingly intense “Pro Life” (with the latter being one of the album’s many highlights) in an incredibly fearless and forthright manner.

This overall increase in intensity, when compared to the band’s first album, is equally apparent during both “For the Sake of the Breed” – which features both some massive, Metallic Hardcore inspired grooves and some strikingly dynamic drum work amidst all the punky melodic riffs and beautifully blackened tremolo runs – and “How Do We Stop It?” (although the latter is guilty of dropping the occasional lyrical clunker now and then… although it must be said that this never undermines the song’s message or meaning).

Enthralling penultimate track “Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead” then brings back Cherry’s crooning clean vocals – which have, surprisingly, played only a very minor role in the band’s success so far – and uses them to turn the song into one of the best things the band have ever produced, one that could easily (and simultaneously) go toe-to-toe with the best of both Alcest and Rise Against (and many more besides).

Let’s face it, as the album climaxes with the pristine Post-Rock instrumental of “Lorek”, you can really understand – whether with the benefit of hindsight or if you lived through it at the time – just why It’s Hard to Have Hope served as the band’s breakthrough to a wider audience.


As good as their previous albums were (and you’ve checked them both out already, right?) there’s no question that When I Die, Will I Get Better? represents the moment that Svalbard truly came into their own, as the group’s cathartic combination of Post-Rock atmospherics, Post-Hardcore dynamics, and bleak Post-Black Metal bite just feels more natural and more organic than ever before.

A big part of that can be attributed to the group’s decision to embrace their influences even more – leaning into the lambent Lantlôs-isms of a song like “What She Was Wearing”, for example, while also embracing the efflorescent Explosions In The Sky-esque aspects of “Listen to Someone” and the impulsive, Ignite style melodic magic of “Silent Restraint” – and, in doing so, weave them together into ever more interesting, and distinctive, patterns, that bridges the gap(s) between all these different elements and inspirations.

At the same time it feels like the group as a whole have gained a whole new level of confidence which has allowed them to really stretch their wings even more – brilliant opener “Open Wounds”, for example, soars towards the same heights of ecstatic energy which bands like Astronoid and An Autumn for Crippled Children have come to call their own – and the contrast between, say, the galloping, blast-driven intensity of a track like “Throw Your Heart Away” and the dreamlike vulnerability of “Pearlescent” showcases just how far the band have come since their debut.

On top of all that, the band have never felt more like a cohesive unit than they do here, especially when it comes to the back-and-forth interaction and interplay between co-vocalists and core guitar duo Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan (with the latter taking on a much more prominent role vocally this time around), whose long-running creative partnership  sounds more vital and visceral than ever.

Make no mistake about it, the central paradox at the heart of this album – where the mix of raw emotion and tightly-honed precision on display throughout tracks like “Click Bait” and “The Currency of Beauty” feels almost like the product of a brand new band, freshly discovering what they’re capable of, yet also a result of years of hard-earned experience – makes for a truly captivating listen, from start to finish, and helps make When I Die, Will I Get Better? a career-defining release from a group who just keep going from strength to strength.


If When I Die… was the sound of Svalbard finally coming into their own, then The Weight of a Mask (out today!) is them elevating their game to a whole new level.

Bigger, bolder, and with even more bite, “Faking It” finds the quartet stepping up into another weight class that’s closer to bands like Oathbreaker and Downfall of Gaia, one which combines both melodic melancholy and metallic majesty in equal measure, with both Cherry and Phelan spitting even more venom and dropping an extra dose of guitar-driven heaviness along the way.

“Eternal Spirits” then picks up this heavier and more intense approach and runs with it, fusing galloping Metallic Hardcore and moody Post-Black melody in a way that sounds like a more atmospheric version of latter-day Shai Hulud at points, while the anthemic tale of rejection and resistance that is “Defiance” blends gleaming tremolo melodies, high-energy drums, and some great back-and-forth between harsh and clean vocals (and between Cherry and Phelan) in a way that sits somewhere between Vattnet Viskar and From Autumn to Ashes.

“November” sees Svalbard exerting some subtle pressure on the outer limits of their sound, first seeing how much further they can push the more ambient and immersive Post-Rock side of things then giving the more blisteringly blast-driven Post-Black inspired aspects of their identity some extra room to really kick into high gear (with drummer Mark Lilley really cutting loose during the song’s impressively intense second half).

“Lights Out” then inverts this paradigm, first exploding into visceral metallic (and melodic) motion, before allowing the more gorgeous and glorious tonal textures of its second half to really soar, after which the poignant Post-Rock tones of “How to Swim Down” (which, initially, felt like an odd choice for a pre-release single, but which make so much more sense in the context of the full album) provide a beautiful sense of breathing-space.

With “Be My Tomb” the group then bring back their signature fusion of melodic Punk, atmospheric Post-Rock, and hypnotic Post-Black embellishments before the simmering slow-burn of “Pillar in the Sand” provides a penultimate pause in all the sound and fury that leads seamlessly into “To Wilt Beneath the Wings” (easily one of the best songs the band have ever written), which takes everything they’ve been incorporating into their sound over the years – all those hooks and melodies and influences from Alcest to Mono to Poison the Well, and beyond – and combines them into something that is unmistakably just Svalbard, through and through.

Which, considering this description applies to pretty much the entire album, arguably makes this the group’s definitive work. At least… for now.

  One Response to “THE SYNN REPORT (PART 163): SVALBARD”

  1. You guys don’t need to apologize for having lives. Especially because NCS has enriched my own life immeasurably. Cheers for all the hard work you guys do.

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