“It was a difficult second album. But it made me feel less alone.” – the Svalbard guitarist/vocalist bares all on their sophomore effort.
Ah, that difficult second album. A cliché which conjures up images of bands failing to reignite the creative spark from their debut record. Struggling to feel inspired when it suddenly becomes a demand. Crumbling beneath the pressure of fan expectations.
Well, we didn’t have any of that.
One Day All This Will End was the album that broke us out of mouldy basements and into slightly-less-mouldy small venues. In terms of an explosive debut, ours was the equivalent of a slowly-opened bottle of pop, steadily hissing away in the background, politely awaiting its turn to be sipped. We simmered, like patient little vegetables while those absolute dragons at Holy Roar Records breathed nothing but love and support down our necks.
There was zero pressure. But It’s Hard To Have Hope was still a difficult second album.
I was writing for Terrorizer Magazine (RIP) at the same time we were writing the record. Listening to tons of new releases, pouring over lyrics and quotes from bands. This was when it dawned on me that none of these bands seemed to have anything particularly impactful to say. And even if they did the message tended to be obscured in overly-syllabic poetry and metaphors. At points it felt like every article on every band was blurring into one. If I had a penny for every time a band have informed me that their new album is “way heavier than the last” I could buy an acoustic, build a studio and record that dreampop album that’ll be way fucking lighter (and yet potentially more interesting) than our last.
I’m not saying there are no political bands out there, it just felt like every time I interviewed a band or dug deep on an album, I felt disappointed by the lack of clarity in their message. The same old tired generic themes of mythological darkness. Saying a song is “about mental illness” but going into no specifics and offering no personal, relatable context or depth to that claim. Nothing powerful to bravely bare. I wondered: when did heavy music become so vague? And what would happen if it just… wasn’t?
The frustrating thing with metal is that it has so much potential to soar above and beyond its beloved, traditional tropes. I wanted to harness all the noise and fury and sharpen it into an extremely focused point. So I made a pact with myself, to write unflinchingly direct lyrics about uncomfortable topics that have deeply affected me. Topics you don’t normally see in metal, such as sexual harassment at gigs, revenge porn, exploitative unpaid internships, abortion laws, breeding dogs for aesthetics, the struggle of living with a lifelong illness… Topics I would want to see a band talking about in magazines like Terrorizer. Topics that might make some people who read the words feel less isolated and alone in their shitty experiences.
In contrast with the usual vague satanic grandeur that permeates metal lyrics, my words seemed so miniscule. Too specific. Too every day. They did not offer the escapism which is a key part of the genre. My lyrics served as a reminder of all the smaller shit that makes life difficult. I cried when I recorded the vocals to every song. In particular, ‘How Do We Stop It?’ – which is a personal account of when I got sexually harassed at Wacken Festival. You imagine that dragging up those horrible memories and screaming about them into a microphone will be cathartic, a way to take control of the pain. But no. After I recorded those lyrics, I worried that I had ruined the music of a beautiful song with this horrible, uncomfortable story of what happened to me. Does anyone want to hear about sexual harassment, let alone hear about sexual harassment in a metal song? Would I ever be able to play this album to my friends? Was I baring too much in my words?
In some ways, I feel that I did perhaps go too close to the bone on this album. It’s a bit overwhelming when strangers come up to you at a gig to talk to you about your own deeply personal experiences outlined on the record. These people now know aspects of my life that my own mother doesn’t. However, releasing this album with these lyrics taught me the sheer power of resonance. The songs, as provocative as they may be, have generated some truly meaningful discussions at our merch desk. And through discussion we heal, we learn, we shatter the isolating walls of our minds.
It was a difficult second album. But it made me feel less alone.
Words: Serena Cherry