It’s an understatement to say 2020 will be a year remembered for a myriad of catastrophes, from the global Coronavirus pandemic to the increased presence of far right groups in our society to the ever-present threat of global warming. However, against this backdrop of global catastrophe, it’s often easy to forget individuals are going through their own internal struggles on a day to day basis. This is where we find Bristol’s Svalbard on If I Die, Will I Get Better?, an album that addresses a wide range of issues from depression to sexual assault and misogyny with a refreshingly direct lyrical approach often missing from such music. The album’s sound is characterised by surging, melancholic melodies bolstered by guitarist/vocalist Serena Cherry’s blistering direct lyrics and delivery, resulting in the band’s most mature and affecting release to date.
Lead-single ‘Open Wound’ also serves as the album’s opener and is simply outstanding, undoubtedly one of the most immediate and powerful tracks the band have written. The music, both melancholic and soaring, brings to mind Envy and early Smashing Pumpkins, as shimmeringly thick guitar-lines create an immersive and towering wall of beauty. Cherry, bolstered by the deep bellows of fellow guitarist Liam Phelan, is also exactly the type of vocalist metal needs right now; as she switches between heartfelt harsh vocals and floaty cleans, she delivers her outspoken and thought provoking lyrics with an unmatched intensity. ‘Listen To Someone’ emerges with similarly stirring guitars that dance above a churning undercurrent of bass; fans of shoegazers Slow Crush will find much to admire here. The lyrics, as the title suggests, focus on the importance of simply listening to a person in their time of need, rather than offering empty platitudes and trying to fix them. It’s not an easy listen, but as Cherry implores, “Some illnesses, they have no fix, listen to someone without judgement”, it really makes one think about the ways in which we offer support to each other in times of crisis.
The haunting and timely ‘What Was She Wearing’ tackles the foul culture of victim blaming that takes place in cases of sexual assault and rape. “Showing flesh does not deserve shaming, showing flesh does not warrant blaming” croons Cherry over a spacey expanse of bittersweet guitars. The closing track ‘Pearlescent’ is one of the most beautiful tracks you’re likely to hear all year; “I burn this flame for you, when all hope remains elusive” implores Cherry, giving a sense that maybe love can cut through the darkest of times. Opening with wistful and glittering guitars the song builds to a truly surging climax, ending the album with a sense that maybe there’s some light ahead in the not-so-distant future.
Many bands tackle difficult and personal themes in their music, but what makes Svalbard standout is the plainspoken nature of their lyrics and the intense emotive delivery. Furthermore, the band create music that is as memorable as it is immersive, mournful as it is hopeful. Simply put, When I Die, Will I Get Better? is one of the most beautiful, cathartic and impressive albums you will hear this year and confirms Svalbard to be one of the very best bands of their generation.
When I Die, Will I Get Better? will be released on 25th September and can be ordered here.
Words: Adam Pegg