By: Andy Price
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Released on October 28, 2016 via Holy Roar Records
Spoiler alert – I’m a bit of a Svalbard fanboy so this is likely to be a pretty positive review. Their last album, the excellent One Day All This Will End, was in my top ten for last year (number 7, fact fans) and is a fantastic record. The first time I saw the band was at Temples Festival in 2014, where they opened the second stage at an ungodly hour. I remember my jaw genuinely dropping at the sheer power on display. The pace, the razor sharp riffs and the ferocity of Serena and Liam’s shared vocals – it put me under a trance for the duration of their set, and I walked away with their name on my lips. No mean feat bearing in mind the quality of the bill that day. I met the band a while back and told them this; anyone that knows me knows I can be a little, er, well, intense about music – I genuinely think I scared them a little bit in trying to communicate how much that performance meant.
So here I have a copy of the Svalbard Discography 2012-2014 record, fresh for review. The album collects all of their pre-One Day All This Will End material, including a collection of 7” and 10” releases, and the tracks from a 12” split with the excellent Pariso, all of which have been remastered by the ubiquitous Brad Boatright at Audiosiege. Let’s get this out of the way – the remaster sounds absolutely awesome. I have heard most of these tracks before on various formats, and the new remaster simply pops. It’s big, bright and stunningly beautiful, with a clarity that wasn’t quite present on the previous masters, and it really accentuates the clarity of Lewis Johns mix.
Listening to this album as I try and write is really hard; my attention keeps disappearing into the eddying rhythms and textured layers of sound, the quality on display here is really quite distracting. Svalbard play a form of noisy post-hardcore, that takes on progressive touches, elements of post-rock and more than a touch of pop sensibility, churns it all together, and creates a surprisingly coherent discography that flows and feels like a consistent album rather than a collection. It’s a staggering and accomplished body of work, and even more impressive that it would be supplanted by their debut full length. The band really is a square peg that doesn’t really fit, there are touches of the post-hardcore of Touché Amoré, the reverb drenched spacey-ness of Rosetta, the crust of Fall of Efrafa and straight out metal. None of these touchpoints actually sound like the band at any one point though. They’re their own thing; a position that is increasingly rare these days.
‘Ripped Apart’ is a stunning opener, all spiky riffs and d-beat pacing, with tremolo picked guitar line running throughout and adding texture. ‘Greyscale’ is a tune and a half, punky rhythms and blasting drums underpinning screamed vocals beautifully. There is no let-up in this song, but the brilliant thing about it, as can be noted consistently across the whole album actually, is how the layers and layers of sound are built up to make it much more than just a punk rock song; it swells beautifully to a crescendo that is genuinely emotionally affecting in its cadence. This is music that makes you feel.
‘Allure’ takes a much more subdued initial tack, the breathing space afforded by the first minute or so of reverb generated intro affords the Envy styled main song that much more impact. Slower and more measured, but no less powerful than the other tracks, it is genuinely beautiful in its denouement. That’s a word I use a lot while listening to this record; beautiful – it trips to the tongue when the goosebumps come up on my arms in ‘Flightless Birds’ and again in the churning mid-section and the epic ending of ‘Leave it’. Elsewhere we have the almost straightforward bullish hardcore of ‘Faceless’ and ‘This Is The End’, both more brutal and effective in their demonstration of dynamics than the majority of dedicated hardcore bands out there. ‘So Much For Meritocracy’ brings a subtle level of restraint to the middle eight before harsh vocal and a chunky riff swoops in. The album closes on the full-throated singing and serrated riffs of ‘Anything Goes, Nothing Stays’, with a single delayed note ringing out after the crescendo, leaving this listener in a state of stunned silence, and reaching for the replay option.
If you have a passing interest in hardcore, post-hardcore, metal or, well, interesting or emotional music, then you owe it to yourself to hear this record. As a body of work it is impeccable, and the remaster only improves this. Its only weakness is the knowledge that it is bettered by the album that followed it. There is literally no-one else blending these influences as smoothly or effectively as Svalbard do, and their brew is a heady mix that will make you want to come back to it time and time again. Buy this discography, buy it now. Then buy their album. Then go and see them live and, if you’re lucky enough to meet them, say nice things to them until they feel uncomfortable, they like it really.