It’s hard to have hope. In no time like the present do statements like this ring true. On both a micro and macro level, it can seem at many times like the world is falling apart. Music is something that should be a comfort to all, yet even scenes that are supposed to be welcoming to all those society pushes to the fringes are plagued by the same bigotry and gatekeeping that they are supposed to fight against. When even this comfort is denied, optimism seems like an impossibility. Enter Svalbard, and their new album It’s Hard to Have Hope, the soundtrack to you dusting yourself off and fighting the good and necessary fight for the future we all deserve.
Bristol, UK’s Svalbard (no relation to the island nation of the same name) are a name I have heard kicking around for a while now, but somehow had never managed to check out. My introduction to the band came by way of It’s Hard to Have Hope‘s advance single “Revenge Porn,” its scathing lyricism, blistering pace, and soaring melody instantly making me stand up and take notice. Taking a base of melodic crust and hardcore and cutting the mix with moments of triumphant, atmospheric black metal, It’s Hard to Have Hope mixes frantic aggression and heartfelt beauty to breathtaking effect. The drums here hit like a brick to the face; whether setting a breakneck pace with blast beats or crusty d-beat, or beefing up the hardcore chug of the guitars in “Feminazi?!,” beatmonger Mark Lilley holds the compositions together, and the rest of the band throws themselves behind him with no reservations. Bass guitar rumbles along in lock-step, the rhythm work is fast and furious, and lead guitars take a cinematic, almost violin-like quality to their work, particularly in the black metal sections, where tremolo-picked melodies take the songs ever skyward. The songs on It’s Hard to Have Hope have such a natural feel to their compositions, full of a fire that is absent in much of the hardcore I come across these days.
Of course, much of what gives these songs that fire is the courageous lyricism of vocalist Serena Cherry. Tackling subjects from feminism to combating white supremacy to sexual assault in the heavy music scene, Serena imparts a brutal honesty that gives added punch to Svalbard’s already cutting music. Matter-of-fact statements, thrown forth like daggers, such as “Why can’t you see that there is nothing similar / Between being victimized and being Hitler?” cut through the bullshit and word-mincing and get straight to the heart of matters that, in this writer’s opinion, should be this clear to every person. It’s hard to have hope, but when bands like Svalbard make it explicitly clear that they’re on your side, it becomes that much easier to believe there’s something worth hanging onto here.
Try not to die until you’re dead.