Svalbard operates in a unique space — and if you’ve ever listened to them, you’ll probably have an idea of what’s meant here. The European heavy but melodic band presents eight tracks of twisting, intriguing intensity on their 2018 full-length, It’s Hard to Have Hope. Their sound evokes images of surging, rushing ocean waves. To tie the metaphor further down, it’s like standing on a beach during an intense storm. The waves (of music) rush inward one after the other, while through the whole process, the sense of grandiosity remains.
Svalbard took the path laid down by personality to get to that point. In other words, their creations result from a surge of personal ambition to get to the music that captures feeling. After all, that’s what it’s all about, right? They’ve tapped into musical lifeblood here.
Vocalist Serena Cherry explains: “When we write songs together, we don’t take a theoretical or methodical approach. We just search for the feeling, when you play some chords or a melody that really strikes you in the heart. Capturing the emotive power of music is paramount to us. Sometimes the most simple melody can make your hair stand on end! That’s what it’s all about – that feeling.”
Their drive into the depths of emotion takes Svalbard through a strikingly melodic but still huge musical presentation. Cherry suggests that the band’s focus rests more with the striking part than it does the inclusion of melody itself in the first place.
“Metal has been littered with melody since its inception, so I wouldn’t say that the combination of heaviness with melody is particularly anything new,” she says. “What matters is how you do it – are the melodies striking? Are they atmospheric? Do they maintain a crushing weight whilst soaring? That’s when heavy melodic stuff is done well. I hope we do it well, but I don’t think that’s really for me to judge!”
She does have a particularly memorable metaphor for her perception of her band’s place, though, offering: “If the table is proverbially covered in riff-food, we are the cherry atop a multi-layered cake that has a spongey melodeath base, a creamy melodic-crust filling and a post-rock icing.”
Quite a combination — and it doesn’t even stop there! Cherry says that personally, she’s inspired by soundtracks and computer game music, which she feels bleeds into her music, although there’s not a one-to-one relationship.
“I think what defines our music,” she says, “is our lack of regard for definition! We don’t care about our music fitting neatly into a genre or being easy to describe, we like to go off on our own tangents when we create – be it atmospheric and slow, or hard and fast, or groovy… whatever! Whatever feels good for us to play, we turn into song.”
In the end, they’re not formally trying to push the boundaries of music. They’re digging into their emotional positions, and their work is what results. Some of the best discoveries have been made by accident — or so it goes — so considering historical precedent, they’re definitely onto something.
Looking Outward Through The Lyrics
The band strikes the listener in part thanks to their union of their demanding, emotive sound with lyrics that are similarly evocative. On the band’s 2018 full-length, for instance, Cherry sings about persistent issues ranging from socially embedded sexism to puppy mills and the concurrent animal abuse.
Their aims in including such themes match up with their ambition underlying their musical presentation, Cherry explains. The band hopes to stir up emotion and conversation with their pointed commentary. They’re here with a platform, so they best make full use of it, she puts forward.
“We just want to generate discussion on these topics,” Cherry says. “We want to hear how everyone else feels on the subjects of feminism, animal rights and workplace exploitation. We want people to feel empowered and safe enough to share their stories. Through listening to each other: we learn and widen our perspectives. I think discussion is key to progress.”
Just like with the strictly musical side to their work, personality drives the inclusion of acutely pressing themes in Svalbard’s music. Serena talks about feminism, animal rights, worker rights, and other issues because she cares about them in her own life. The project isn’t a one-off gimmick, resting on a single mustered up burst of energy and that’s it. It’s Hard to Have Hope has staying power.
“Hardcore and metal is a visceral, aggressive form of music – it should be a place where people feel empowered to talk about the issues that affect their lives,” Cherry asserts. “What’s the point in screaming if you have nothing important to say? Our music and our lyrics are intertwined, but they are not codependent. I don’t only talk about feminism in Svalbard songs, it’s something that takes up a large part of my life outside of music. It’s not like we ‘switch on’ our topical mode for the sake of the band. We simply harness the aggression of our music to get our points across.”
That aggression rushes through the band’s newest offering and isn’t easy to dismiss. The work sticks with you.
Listen to It’s Hard to Have Hope below, via Spotify.