Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Church Road Records)

It’s Hard To Have Hope.

Hard indeed.

And the title of Svalbard’s 2018 opus, two years on, rings even truer today.

But with the Bristol act producing fierce, cathartic records like When I Die, Will I Get Better? – their third full length – there is a light in the darkness.

We might not be able to experience songs like Silent Restraint live in a sweaty basement, surrounded by friends and fellow metalheads. But we can still bathe in the life-affirming brilliance of a band who, in an alternative universe, would be scooping up Mercury Prizes and headlining Glasto.

At one point in September, the status of When I Die, Will I Get Better? looked uncertain.

Svalbard severed ties with Holy Roar Records just two weeks before release day, after becoming aware of the serious allegations made against label founder Alex Fitzpatrick.

And many of their labelmates – including Boss Keloid and Rolo Tomassi – followed suit.

But former Holy Roar label manager, Justine Jones and her new venture, Church Road Records, stepped in to rescue the album – and here it is.   

Certainly, it would have been a crying shame if copies of When I Die, Will I Get Better? had sat gathering dust.

Songs like Click Bait and What Was She Wearing? should be considered essential listening for our times: lyricist/vocalist Serena Cherry rails against misogyny and abuse, and the band’s deftly channeled aggression powers her poignant words to a crescendo.

Indeed, the swirling fury at Svalbard’s core hasn’t dimmed since their impressive 2015 debut, One Day All This Will End.

But the group’s glorious, glistening mix of hardcore, crust, post-rock and black metal has been refined over five years, their song writing sharpened to a crystalline point.

That’s evident as soon as Open Wound – boasting choral vocals reminiscent of Alcest – offers a gateway to the album’s riches.

And it’s confirmed when the urgent Throw Your Heart Away announces itself as the finest track Svalbard have ever put their name to. Yes, that’s saying something, but the song’s subtle balance of ferocity and melody, sun and shade, is jaw dropping… as is the way it floats gently into Listen To Someone, a heart rending exploration of mental health struggles.

The tours or festival shows that would normally have accompanied When I Die, Will I Get Better? may still be a vaccine away.

But thanks to this album, Svalbard have reaffirmed their status as one of the UK’s most enthralling – and vital – acts.

And their ascent will continue.

£1 from every CD or LP sale of When I Die, Will I Get Better? via Church Road will be donated to Rape Crisis.