It has been three years since Bristolian blackened hardcore 'Svalbard' released their debut record 'One Day All This Will End'; an album that has more than stood the test of time as a fantastic debut from a band who are not afraid to speak their mind. Serena Cherry's haunting vocals and unflinching lyrics accompanied by the bands signature tremolo guitars and innovative blend of black metal and hardcore gave 'Svalbard' an instantly recognisable sound and allowed them to hold their own whilst supporting established bands such as 'Oathbreaker'. It is therefore no easy accomplishment that their highly anticipated sophomore 'It's Hard To Have Hope' makes their debut sound amateurish by comparison.
Tackling topics including unpaid internships, sexual assault and puppy farms head on, 'It's Hard To Have Hope' is one of the most important records of the year, possibly even this decade. Where many bands cloak their lyrics behind metaphors, 'Svalbard' get straight to the point to ensure that their message is as clear as possible. Opening track 'Unpaid Intern' tackles the ludicrous culture of companies that expect the youth of today to work for free under the guise of experience "Can't you see how this prevents the poor from opportunities". Blunt and direct, 'Unpaid Intern' sets the tone for what is to come as Serena Cherry launches into a visceral tirade over topics that the vast majority of bands won't dare to touch. The tragic level of misogyny that still plagues our society is brought sharply into focus on 'Feminazi?!', 'Pro-life?' and 'How do we stop it?' the latter being a powerful personal account of sexual assault and harassment at gigs (an issue that will be sadly all too familiar to many women). Cherry's lyrics are tactful yet determined "As a teenage girl, no-one ever told me to not accept it, as a teenage girl I learned the hard way to expect it" turning into a rallying cry for unity "Everyone come forward, we need to raise awareness.". Likewise 'Feminazi?!' addresses the vial moniker given to feminists by misogynists and trolls "Call me a feminazi, I'l call you ignorant." whilst 'Revenge Porn' discusses the distribution of leaked nude photos and societies tendency to blame the victims as opposed to the perpetrators "They assume its your fault for being a slut...sending nudes is not a crime, distribution without consent is!".
Although the lyrical content sits unmistakably at the forefront of 'It's Hard To Have Hope', what truly makes this album stand out is the way that 'Svalbard' have evolved musically since their 2015 debut. Continuing in the same vein as their previous output, 'Svalbard' have taken the formula that worked so well on 'One Day All This Will End' and dialled everything up to the extreme. Nightmarishly heavy at one moment and then eerily serene at the next, there is so much creativity packed into this record that it is difficult to know where to start. 'Unpaid Intern kicks things off at full throttle and then progresses into a jackhammer staccato riff. Likewise, the pummelling drums and driving bass on 'For The Sake Of The Breed' feel like repeated stabs to the chest as they hammer their message home and batter the senses. However, the most striking shift in tone is the introduction of clean vocals on tracks like 'Revenge Porn' and 'Try Not To Die Until You Are Dead'. Cherry's voice is sublime and a magnificent contrast against the harsh growls that dominate the album. Drawing more comparisons with the likes of 'Oathbreaker' the contrast provided by these brief moments of melancholic clean singing adds an extra dimension that we have not experienced with 'Svalbard' before.
It is tragic that these are topics that still need to be addressed in 2018 and even more so that they are still considered controversial, but that is what makes 'Svalbard's direct approach so commendable. Rock music has always been a means of directing anger and campaigning for change and 'Svalbard' have plenty to be angry about. With high profile names being outed for sexual assault and the issue of womens rights continuing to be a pressing topic, 'It's Hard To Have Hope' is one of those records that everybody needs to listen to and stands as a shining beacon for what heavy music can accomplish.
Personal Highlight: There are few heavy songs that have ever brought us to tears, but Cherry's harrowing account of the sexual assault that is normalised in our culture is heartbreakingly honest. The reasons why victims do not speak about these crimes is something that is regularly glossed over, but 'Svalbard' address this head on. 'How Do We Stop It?' is a question that we should all be asking ourselves.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!