The Weight Of The Mask
Review by Fernando on November 16, 2023.
The whole “post-black metal” or “blackgaze” trend of the 2010’s certainly had some interesting results, some good bands others not so good, however, one good undeniable thing it brought for black metal was the opening of its barriers and many bands that had dabbled in the peripheries of extreme music started incorporating black metal into their music or incorporated much more varied influences into their own brand of “post-black metal”. Enter Svalbard from the UK, led by firebrand multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Serena Cherry. This band has had a steady and consistent trajectory, putting out some punishing music that combines post-hardcore and black metal to create something truly of their own, and in 2023, now with the backing of metal bastion Nuclear Blast they unleash their fourth album The Weight Of The Mask.
Svalbard’s style of music primarily combines black metal and post-hardcore, however with each album they’ve also brought various elements into their music from post-rock, shoegaze, to classic hardcore and some elements of alternative, and each album feels like a natural progression for the band. This new LP is no exception, at this point the band has pretty much perfected their style and while it is in line with past albums, this record is the band’s most atmospheric and also their most, for lack of a better descriptor, hopeful, the music as a whole has a weird dichotomy where the music is very intense and aggressive but the melodies and atmospherics as well as the inclusion of a violin and keyboards have create beautiful noise, very much in line with the band’s shoegaze elements, but without rotely cribbing from Alcest or Deafheaven.
A major shakeup the band has is the inclusion of bassist Matt Francis, who also collaborated with frontwoman Serena Cherry on her black metal side project Noctule, and that particular album’s atmospheric leanings managed to make their way into this record, but filtered through the band’s established sound. Furthermore the band has gotten really good at doing the Pixies styled quiet then loud dynamic, or rather loud then quiet, though the band also do a good job of having songs that are consistent rangers and also do songs that are predominantly atmospheric driven.
Furthermore, the band’s instrumentation continues to be of ascending quality, as Cherry and fellow shredder Liam Phelan are as in sync in both their riffing and tremolo picking, as they are when playing haunting melodies and leads, the drumming of other original member Mark Lilley is always top notch and the aforementioned Matt Francis is not just a welcome addition, but an excellent foil to the guitarwork. Overall, the band just excel in their skills and their music truly displays that excellence.
To conclude, Svalbard continues to be an outstanding example of the more unorthodox branches between hardcore, post-metal and black metal, if anything, they actually display the best synthesis of those genres and the breaking of the often fabricated walls between them.
Best tracks: 'Faking It', 'Eternal Spirits', 'How To Swim Down', 'To Wilt Beneath The Weight', 'Defiance'
Rating: 8 out of 10182