Review: Svalbard ‘The Weight Of The Mask’

If you’ve ever felt strangled by manipulative, toxic people in your life, Svalbard might just be the band for you. Their music captures a unique vibe that balances both the camaraderie that comes from knowing exactly how you feel when you’re at your wit’s end and providing a safe spot to vent, cry, scream, and stare. Their newest album, The Weight Of The Mask, might also be the finest music any member has made so far.

Svalbard 'The Weight Of The Mask' Artwork
Svalbard ‘The Weight Of The Mask’ Artwork

Svalbard are a Bristol, England, based post-hardcore, black metal thing consisting of Matt Francis on bass; Mark Lilley on drums; Liam Phelan on background vocals, guitar, and violin; and Serena Cherry on lead vocals, lead guitar and lyric duties. Previously their album When I Die, Will I Get Better? was my favorite album of theirs as it’s a great piece of cathartic metal music, but then Svalbard had to go and better themselves. Now, this is going to be a cool and fun album for anyone who enjoys music that makes you shed past traumas and break free of them. You know, everyone’s favorite pastime.

No buildup is needed on album opener Faking It. It’s just pure execution from the drumming that acts as the relentless beating heart of the band. Adding cool guitar breakdowns bring a flavor that was sprinkled into the recipe of Svalbard’s previous albums, but here it’s something the band truly basks in. Vocals snarl as they spew ‘I don’t recognise that smile, How is it so convincing? I don’t recognise that life, Inside it feels like I am dying. The track started the album by throwing its arms up in the air in defeated anger while the lyrics end with Serena screaming that she’s just faking joy, hope and love.

With an even more abrupt beginning, Eternal Spirits sees Svalbard dipping their feet into more black metal territories while clean vocals also make an appearance. The notes sound manically organized in a way that’s good to the ears, but perplexing to the brain. It’s like each sound the band dabbles in stretches out a bit, only for it to collapse immediately meshing into another genre.

Defiance sounds the way smoking cigarettes behind a laundromat at 2am in 2007 felt. The passionate guitar licks shine brighter than anything else and even more stunning than before. They are squeezed out over and over against drumming that moves so so fast taking all the breath out of your head. Luckily, a moment of calm air comes with November but don’t take that as the band going completely soft or anything. They are, after all, an apex predator. Weird guitar effects, echoey vocals, and a tension that keeps building to eventually break, making us remember they’re alive and awake.

The most soaring moments on The Weight Of The Mask are like winning in a mosh pit…

How To Swim Down sees Svalbard do what they’ve been threatening for a while, commit to a sound that is pure beauty. There’s something so heartbreaking about hearing this song. Its elegant vulnerability is impossible to look away from. Be My Tomb continues the triumphant soundscape with troubling lyrics and a return to the calamity we’re getting more accustomed to. There comes a strange peace of mind on Pillar In The Sand and an unexpected building of chords that makes for a nifty breakdown.

The instrumentation has been flawlessly executed everywhere, but something else takes center stage here. A self-confidence that’s actually inspiring. So often with extreme metal the notion of self-hatred, loss, or isolation is used for inspiration but merely left at that. Here we see a way through all of that turmoil into acceptance.

Album closer, To Wilt Beneath The Weight, is a look back at the previous eight tracks. It’s wonderful in the same ways I’ve already brought up but that doesn’t feel like the point to me at this stage. This is the part where we, or at least I, realize we’ve been through heartache and now we’re stronger for it.

The most soaring moments on The Weight Of The Mask are like winning in a mosh pit. You’re bruised up but you probably have new friends from thrashing about while your emotional state fleets away any negativity. You’re drained but happy overall. The lowest are an engulfment of getting trapped in your mind and while this feeling may be suffocatingly bleak, it’s a chance to bust open your mind and let in new life, while dripping away the busted parts.

Label: Nuclear Blast
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Richard Murray