One would think in 2020, the worst year ever, we’d be far enough along as human beings not to lie incessantly to each other, make up shit that’s not real, and treat other people like objects and/or props for our amusement, but here we are, repeating the same old patterns because people don’t change. The internet is a hellish wasteland, and it’s not like people behave all that well in certain social situations.
One trip through “When I Die, Will It Get Better?” the new record from UK force Svalbard, is a jarring reminder that many members of humankind still have a long way to go before they’re considered decent. And so many of them probably don’t care. From harassing women to threatening LGBTQIA+ members to holding onto racist tenets to refusing to acknowledge the everyday struggles people have with mental illness and addiction, we’re still fighting so many of the same problems, and the open belching maw that is the internet has only emboldened people who’d be too afraid to act this way fading real opposition. Svalbard have been more than willing to stand on the front line of these battles as the band—vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry, vocalist/guitarist Liam Phelan, drummer Mark Lilley (bassist Alex Hefferman played on the record but has since left the band)—unleash eight songs that address these territories, where they lash back against those who make people feel this way and stand in defiance of these creatures to the bitter end.
“Clickbait” opens in moodiness as darkness spreads, and then the whole thing explodes as Cherry’s voice smashes over the verses, leading into the venomous, “We are used as fodder to generate comments, because the presence of a woman is apparently reactive, fuck off!” An amazing surge follows, as if the sentiment is growing into a beast looking to maul, as she declares, “One day, when I’m represented, I will have control,” as the track hammers home. “Throw Your Heart Away” is intense from the start with harsh growls and the pace speeding up, leading to the drums leaving everything in the dust. “I am lost on the outskirts of your life, just feel the pain in the name of love, just fill the soil in the grave of love,” Cherry calls painfully as guitars lather and emit humidity before trickling cold for a bit ahead of the next explosion. She grits her teeth and sees the inevitable, wailing, “Trapped in a computer game, I just keep dying and continuing again,” a sentiment so on the head, it hurts. “Listen to Someone” is one of the most important tracks here lyrically, as it conveys the hurt and confusion of mental illness coupled with people who just won’t absorb their words. Cherry’s vocals are softer out front as she sings, “Don’t tell me it’s OK to not be OK then wince at everything I say, don’t act like a confidant if you’re just going to get impatient,” before the fog bursts. The pace kicks up as frustration mounts while the band backs with proper cathartic thunder as Cherry blasts, “If I could fix it like a broken limb, I would, if I could stop these thoughts and start again, I would, I would leap at the chance,” which are words that we all should take to heart and treat anyone with mental issues with the compassion they deserve.
“Silent Restraint” quakes the ground as Cherry’s voice blasts holes in the earth, and Phelan joins in with his melodic, powerful singing, as both trade back and forth. “I’m sick of feeling like a burden, I’m sick of having no control,” she cries, again in the clutches of mental duress, while the guitar work adds reds and oranges to the horizon, and the song burns away. “What Was She Wearing,” is another track that, lyrically, we need to use to educate people on matters of sexual abuse and what actually leads to it. Guitars glaze over a shoegazey approach, putting an edge of beauty on an ugly subject matter. But that calm doesn’t last long, because there is justified rage beneath the surface that cuts through as Cherry calls, “Showing flesh, showing flesh does not remove dignity, showing flesh, showing flesh, does not invalidate me,” as the storm grows and threatens. “This is the vessel I exist in, it is not a sin, my body is not a sin!” Cherry declares forcefully as the track comes to a massive end. “The Currency of Beauty” pours open as Cherry immediately stabs into the scene, calling, “I am not your trophy, I am more than my body,” while the track gears up and crushes everything in front of it. There is a brief respite from the chaos, but that turns back into a boiling cauldron as the track rages with life, and Cherry blasts, “Stop fucking rating us, stop fucking hating us, this isn’t a pageant, and it isn’t a compliment.” “Pearlescent” closes the album with cleaner tones, softer singing, and a numbing sense flowing over you, though there are cataclysms that eventually melt again. Gazey power explodes, pacing the back end of the song where Cherry dutifully insists, “For you I would die, for you I will live,” as the track leaves its blood and tears in a trail behind.
Svalbard already have made a huge dent in the heavy music scene with their incredibly infectious displays of metal and post-hardcore, and “When I Die, Will It Get Better?” is a record that not only sounds incredible, but it also stands as a must-read from a lyrical standpoint. From mental illness, to how women are treated in society (still!), to how we judge based on looks (still!), there is so much here that should be exposed to people as a whole for a sobering re-education effort designed to change matters like these. This is a vital band with a crucial message at a time when gaslighting is at its apex, and spreading new messages that reverses the abuse, torture, and hatred never has been needed more.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/svalbarduk/
To buy the album (US), go here: https://translationloss.com/collections/pre-orders
Or here (UK): https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/categories/pre-order
Or here (Japan): http://store.tokyojupiterrecords.com/#_=_
For more on the label, go here: https://translationloss.com/
And here: https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/
And here: https://tokyojupiterrecords.com/