Svalbard's Political Hardcore Is the Soundtrack to the End of the Old World
The British outfit's epic new album, 'It’s Hard To Have Hope,' is a fiery indictment of wage theft, sexual violence, and the repression of women's rights.
Photo by David Morton
Psst: There's a new Svalbard album called It’s Hard To Have Hope dropping this week via Translation Loss and Holy Roar (preorders are live here). I'm absolutely delighted to be debuting it here on Noisey—and, if you're not yet familiar with the British hardcore outfit that's been burning up stages across the UK and Europe with their fiery feminist rhetoric and soaring crust anthems, then it's about goddamn time we fix that.
First, let's talk about the music. Svalbard's uplifting take on hardcore is very much in the stadium crust vein, which pairs well with the darker melodies they swirl in; think an angrier Fall of Efrafa or latter-day Tragedy with fancier production and a few Mono albums tucked away in the back on the van. This is post-hardcore without all the emotional wishy-washiness or technical wankery that that phrase has grown to exemplify; as with their like-minded peers in Ancst or Wildspeaker, this is the kind of hardcore you'd want to blast while watching the old world burn.
That especial emphasis on melody elevates their sound to a more epic realm, and results in an eminently aggressive, hard-charging album that's also undeniably pretty at the same time (for example, the marriage of windswept vocals and icy tremolo in "For the Sake of the Breed" is downright beautiful, and the album itself bleeds out as the instrumental, "Iorek," which is lovely enough to make Explosions in the Sky nervous).
Now, let's talk about the message. I write about a lot of socially conscious, anti-capitalist, generally leftist bands on here, because they're an important counterbalance to metal's more reactionary elements ( and yes, I am absolutely pushing my own radical leftist agenda—deal with it). Svalbard fits snugly into that sweet spot of killer music and excellent politics, and have been increasingly recognized for both. It’s Hard To Have Hope tackles class privilege, wage theft, violent misogyny, feminism, reproductive freedom, "designer" pet breeds, and the endemic problem of sexual assault at shows, with plainspoken lyrics that hit hard and fast in vocalist Serena Cherry's rough-edged roar.
Songs like "Unpaid Intern," "Revenge Porn," and "Feminazi" seethe and churn with righteous fury. "Is it pro-life to have no rights? To bear unwanted children in the name of Jesus Christ?" Cherry asks on the deceptively muted, almost ethereal "Pro-Life?," ripping into the oppressive rhetoric that robs millions of people around the world of the right to control their own bodies (if you're reading this in Ireland right now—#Repealthe8th).
Cherry is also a music writer who's written about these issues for various metal publications, and her style here is straightforward and impactful—not a syllable is wasted or dressed up with poetic frippery or metaphorical embellishments. Svalbard's got something to fucking say, and its lyricist wants to ensure she's making herself crystal clear.
"When I was watching a band and I was unable to fight off his hands paralyzed by the shock of forceful attention that I didn’t want, is this just what happens at shows?" she howls later on the barn-burning call to action "How Do We Stop It," her voice shaking with unspent rage. "Is this a depressing rite of passage for every music loving girl?"
"It’s been three years since we released our debut album. During that time, a lot has changed. We lost our bassist, Liam and I ended our seven-year relationship, and two members were struck with long term illnesses," Cherry told Noisey in a lengthy statement. "18 months ago, the future looked uncertain for Svalbard. It was a struggle to be in the same room, let alone to go on tour. But as the famous phrase goes, when the going gets tough…the tough channel everything they’ve got into making a second album. There were points where it felt like it may be our last album. So, we had to pour absolutely everything we had into it. One final massive push. In darker times, our only hope was to at least go out with a bang."
"As we began writing the record, we found this all-or-nothing approach changed everything. Suddenly, we felt creatively fearless. We dared to go further with the lyrical content, we dared to bring in stark contrasting vocals, we dared to mash up as many genres as possible simply because we had nothing left to lose. We were already on the verge of losing it all anyway."
"By the time we hit The Ranch studio to record, we felt like a unit again. But one that had been reinforced through various shared traumas. Together, we now felt invincible. We felt ready to talk uninhibitedly about sexual assault, abortion laws and unpaid internships via our music. We felt ready to blatantly bare our political fangs, regardless of what others thought. In its directness, It’s Hard To Have Hope is meant to be an uncomfortable listen. But this album also represents a journey. A journey that begins with four people on the verge of collapse, desperately tunneling their way through hordes of bullshit, only to find the light at the end in each other."
Listen below, and preorder the album here via Translation Loss Records, Holy Roar Records, Through Love Records, and Tokyo Jupiter. As fans of heavy music, it can be hard to have hope in a world gone dark—but bands like Svalbard serve as a guiding light towards something better.
Kim Kelly is caught in a warren of snares on Twitter.