The latest album from the U.K. group Svalbard carries an attention-grabbing question in the title: When I Die, Will I Get Better? The record contains a rush into the thick haze that fills up the emotional space of getting to a place of ever even wondering about that question in the first place. The band’s pummeling melodic hardcore hits with frequently dramatic intensity, with a crispness and atmosphere in the sound alongside the more traditional heaviness, and via her lyrics, vocalist Serena Cherry confronts issues like mental illness, online clickbait, and the objectification of women.
The lyrics and the emotional energy in the riffs both feel drawn from very real-life frustrations on the part of the artists behind this creation. Tracks deliver a consistent barrage of crescendos of heaviness, which are buoyed by forays into simmering tension packed into riffs and rhythms that aren’t obliterating so much as they feel like a particularly contemplative version of heavy hardcore. “Listen to Someone,” for instance, starts on softer notes before building into a rush of a conclusion, but the softer moments, there and elsewhere, do not just feel like a garnish. “Throw Your Heart Away” is another track in which the band leans heavily into dynamic swings; it starts on a ferocious note, eventually softens out, and then builds into a peak of increasingly dramatic ferocity.
The segues into atmosphere are powerfully woven into the broader songwriting, and they allow Svalbard — and by extension, listeners — to feel like they’re taking a look at an emotional undercurrent that might go overlooked in other assessments of heavy themes. There’s no sense of glossing over much of anything here, either on the thematic/ lyrical or musical side. Svalbard dive right into the musical unease and accompanying mind-wringing uncertainty that simmers in the background behind some of the most raw outbursts. It’s an examination of pain, and there’s freedom in honesty.
On a strictly sonic level, Svalbard feel like they have a quite recognizable tone. Their songs feel enriched by a breadth of strangely enlivening atmosphere. The band’s riffing hits with a sometimes earth-rattling weight — like on the particularly heavy song, “The Currency of Beauty,” which is opened and closed by slow and steady pummeling barrages of riffs and buoyed by ferocious rhythms throughout its runtime. Even amidst these musical avalanches, Svalbard’s music reverberates with an emotionally piercing and heavy resonance, which delivers an immersive and sharp sense of breadth that definitely does not come from any sort of lo-fi aesthetic.
Amidst the emotionally raw outbursts, Svalbard have packed endlessly hard-hitting songwriting — they seriously know how to make a song stick. When I Die, Will I Get Better? feels invigoratingly direct.
When I Die, Will I Get Better? is available from Translation Loss Records and Church Road Records.