REVIEW: SVALBARD – “When I Die, Will I Get Better?”
Before we get to the music, the serious allegations against Alex Fitzpatrick, the owner of Holy Roar Records, have left many of us shocked. We at Metal-Wani send all our support and solidarity to those who have suffered. It takes so much courage to speak out, and we stand with the survivors and always will.
We decided to continue with the review because we believe that Svalbard‘s effort into putting a stellar third album in ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?‘ deserves its praise. Just as we finished the review, the band announced that they had severed all ties with the record label and would not be releasing the album on Holy Roar Records. We appreciate and respect Svalbard’s decision, and hence have not embedded any song links linked to the record label’s YouTube or Bandcamp. We hope that the review that follows convinces our readers to support the band whenever this stellar album finally comes out.
The UK hardcore/punk scene has seen many stellar acts emerge over the last decade, including the likes of Rolo Tomassi and Employed To Serve. But one band often missed by many is the Bristol-based quartet in Svalbard. Formed in 2011, the band has shown a stable upward trajectory over multiple EP’s, splits, and two full-length albums. What started as an amalgamation of post-hardcore, crust, and black metal influences has now evolved into a genre-fluid sound that greets the listener on their third full-length album ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’.
Ten years of relentless progress comes to a head on the new album, as the black metal and crust elements are tone down to the bare minimum, and building an intense atmospheric experience is given priority. Where 2018’s ‘It’s Hard To Have Hope’ was abrasive and in-your-face, ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ provides the listener with many lighter ethereal moments, in turn giving the heavy segments more spite and grit. The album opener “Open Wound” stands as a good example, mixing the distorted post-rock sensibilities akin to Explosions in the Sky, with the sheer math-rock/hardcore technique of Dillinger Escape Plan. The two styles are mixed masterfully, keeping the listeners hooked all throughout.
The resulting 39-minute playtime on ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ is an incredibly emotional rollercoaster. It provides moments that feel akin to one wrapping themselves in a calm blanket on a cold night and other segments that give a sense of pummeling the listener into the ground. Sudden bursts of energy erupt from airy, delicate moments – highlighted on the longer songs like “Listen To Someone” and “The Currency Of Beauty.” The former reminds one of the fellow countrymates in Rolo Tomassi, as the band perfectly mixes the opposite ends of warm, ambient indie sound with abrasive hardcore beats.
Even when attempting much straightforward Touche Amore-esque post-hardcore on songs like “Throw Your Heart Away” and “Silent Restraint,” Svalbard manage to showcase a finesse and cohesion in the songwriting in comparison to their earlier efforts. Similarly, when attempting a more classic post-rock build-up and crescendo on “What Was She Wearing?” the tension is palpable from the get-go. Hence, when the monstrous tidal wave does come crashing, one is not only prepared but enjoys to be drenched in the atmospheric guitar riffs and the hard-hitting drum beats.
To sum it up, ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ shows a staggering level of artistic growth from Svalbard and is unquestionably their best output to date. The album offers a truly immersive experience by perfectly balancing the impact of both the serene and the chaotic moments. A statement of the continuous evolution we have come to expect from Svalbard over the past decade. If they continue this trajectory, they are bound to soon become one of the best post-hardcore bands to emerge from Britain.