There’s a common and frustratingly fraudulent misconception in the mainstream media concerning extreme metal and music as a whole. In a manner most ignorant and somewhat uneducated, many people foreign to the genre perceive the subject matter within all extreme musical content as nothing more than frenzied, demonic and comical preaching’s of violence and occult worship. As we all know, It’s a ridiculous and cliched stereotype that many acts have worked incredibly hard to stamp out. Once such act who have used their platform to document and state opinions on difficult and often uncomfortable subjects in a positive manner are Bristol’s own Svalbard.
Unafraid to confront subjects that some bands may shy away from, Svalbard have worn their feminist stance proudly since their inception and have continued to be a source of support and empowerment to those who have found solace through their art. Not only is their latest album, It’s Hard To Have Hope, continue to positively tackle harsh subjects, it’s undoubtedly their best work musically wise to date.
Even before hitting play on this fantastic record, it’s transparent that this isn’t an act who choose to explore subjects though the act of vague metaphors or ambiguous passages. Tracks such as ‘Unpaid Intern’, ‘Revenge Porn’ and ‘Feminazi?!’ document and tackle the issues stated in a manner most creative, positive and confrontational. Whilst material found their excellent full-length debut One Day This Will All End challenges social-economic issues, the way similar and prolific subjects are approached here is in a more stark, visceral and confrontable fashion. The sheer passion and courage in how vocalist Serena Cheery forcibly untangles and documents such horrific issues within our society is just powerfully tangible.
Simply, such energy and anger is infectious; you can feel her resentment of the sickening act of revenge porn, her disdain of having to endure the condescending practice of taking an unpaid internship and her hostility towards the abhorrent members of the pro-life movement who fight against the rights of women suffering from unwanted pregnancy. It’s a frank and uncensored account of the horrific issues that have become too common place within our modern society.
However, the way such accounts are animated is just outstanding. Whilst the band’s early releases and aforementioned debut introduced us to their cinematic sound and the way they interlace elements of post-metal within their content, such a sonic bombardment has only been honed to the highest degree within this release. Rhythm and melody dances and coexists with musical extremism, blast beats and breakdowns pave the way for ethereal grace and harmony. However, whilst some metallic bands choose to clumsily and awkwardly segregate and purposely differentiate contrasting musical constructs in order to create a sense of juxtaposition, the punishment and ethereal grace found here exists in unison, an ethereal marriage of creativity. Glacial yet majestic post-metal howling flies over blackened crust to create cinematic, progressive and enveloping soundscapes of creative freedom.
This is all evident within tracks like the rousing and deeply emotional ‘How Do We Stop It?’ and rallying and confrontational ‘Feminazi?!’. In relation, ‘Pro-Life?’ and ‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’ see’s the group withdrawing with progressive dynamics, sturctures and dreamscapes to truly amplify the crushing content and the prominent issues the act tackle and dismantle. Such courage, ethereal dynamics and punishment comes to a close with the closer ‘lorek’, an instrumental conclusion that brings optimism and thoughts of a day when such battles found within this release don’t need to be fought. It’s a beautiful send off to an album that’s fraught with sonic annihilation, anguish and bravery.
In all, Svalbard have created a record that’s both culturally critical and must need listening for those seeking creative and contemporary extreme music. In an age where both social and economic troubles are rife, It’s Hard To Have Hope chooses to stand against the tide as a statement of positive intent.