After more than a decade of grit and graft, Svalbard are poised for global success. But vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry remains as grounded – and grateful – as ever, as Rich Holmes found out…

If you’re an underground UK metal band, it’s always good to have a celebrity fan or two.

Maybe someone who can open doors across the Pond.

It’s even better if that fan has been a part of your musical evolution.

So when Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares tweeted his admiration for Svalbard back in 2020, it meant a hell of lot to their vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry

“It doesn’t feel real,” says Serena of Cazares’ endorsement. “It hasn’t sunk in, because the first metal album I ever owned was Obsolete by Fear Factory.

“I’m a metal fan, first and foremost, before a metal musician. When we play Bloodstock I’m down at the barrier for Cradle Of Filth. When we play Damnation Festival I’m at the front for Carcass.

“When you see the bands that you look up to talking about your own band it’s surreal. It’s something I’ll never take for granted.

“Fear Factory are a really important band to me in terms of getting me into metal and exposing me to all things heavy, so to read stuff like that – that someone from Fear Factory even knows who we are – is just mind blowing to me.”

But maybe she shouldn’t be surprised.

Svalbard, who formed in Bristol in 2011, have been on an upward trajectory since their debut album, One Day All This Will End, hit in 2015.

Their entrancing blend of black metal, hardcore, crust and post-rock resonated across metal’s landscape.

And it had turned into something unique and extremely powerful by the time It’s Hard To Have Hope emerged three years later.

But it was When I Die, Will I Get Better?, released in 2020, that really pressed the ignition switch. Taut songwriting and lyrics covering mental health and misogyny combined to create a landmark opus… and a deeply personal one at that.

At A Night Of Salvation, the Friday prelude to 2021’s Damnation Festival, Svalbard played that album in its entirety to an enraptured, gig-starved crowd.

“A lot of people at Damnation came up to me after the show to tell me what the lyrics to that album meant to them,” Serena recalls. “It’s really moving when that happens. My lyrics are there to make them feel less alone.

“I think when you’re struggling with something and then a piece of art can vocalise how it’s making you feel, that resonance has a real kind of value to it.”

Headline tours, plus a swathe of festival shows, have seen Svalbard make up for the lost months of the Coronavirus pandemic.

French shindig Motocultor, Germany’s Summer Breeze and Spain’s Resurrection Fest were ticked off the list this summer.

Next April they’ll be going toe to toe with the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Dark Funeral at Norway’s Inferno Festival, following a European tour with Cult Of Luna and Russian Circles.

Career highs are coming thick and fast for Cherry, guitarist Liam Phelan, drummer Mark Lilley and bassist Matt Francis.

And one of the most significant arrived in June this year, when Svalbard signed to Nuclear Blast Records and joined the likes of Fear Factory on its global roster.  

“Signing with Nuclear Blast definitely ranks as number one in terms of ‘pinch yourself’ moments,” says Serena, reflecting on that moment.

“It’s a dream come true.

“Sometimes I find it hard to believe that we’re actually signed to the label.

“All of my favourite bands are signed to Nuclear Blast, so it’s such an honour to be on that label.”

Are Svalbard leading the UK charge?

In 2022, the UK scene is a wellspring of creativity.

Its heavy bands, from Svalbard’s labelmates Malevolence and Conjurer, to Employed to Serve, Palm Reader and Boss Keloid, are capturing international attention.

The likes of Heriot, Ithaca and Underdark aren’t too far behind.

And we shouldn’t forget Serena’s black metal side-project, Noctule, either.

Given their success, earned from more than a decade on the frontlines, does she see Svalbard as a trailblazing band for the UK?

“I think that it would be very, very generous to call us trailblazers,” she laughs. “A lot of it is down to timing. We’re really lucky that Svalbard gained momentum as a band around the same time as loads of other really unique and exciting bands like Conjurer and Employed To Serve.

“We could all help each other out as we were finding our feet as bands. We learned from each other.”

She continues: “I wouldn’t say we were at the forefront, but we are very happy and lucky to be part of this wave of UK bands.

“It’s weird to think of just how many there are in the UK right now. It feels very healthy and inspiring.

“I think record labels like Church Road (which released When I Die…) who are using their expertise to help grow young talent from the UK has definitely been instrumental in the rise of bands like Heriot.

“I’m really proud that you can look at a lineup like last year’s Damnation Festival and the majority of it is British.

“And it’s not just bands that sound the same.

“We’ve got some great black metal, we’ve got some great death metal, we’ve got bands like us who don’t really fit into one genre.

“Maybe this wave has been growing for many years. So while it may come across like a sudden boom, I think it’s just that this has been subtly growing for the last 10 years. And now it’s reached this explosion point.”

Svalbard will be adding fuel to that fire when their first album for Nuclear Blast is unleashed.

They’ve started writing new material for their fourth full-length.  

Anticipation is building.

So how far does Serena want to take Svalbard?

Where, exactly, does she want them to be?

Well, as it turns out, sharing a stage with some symphonic Finns…

“Personally, I would love to tour with Nightwish because they’re my favourite band. But do we sound anything like Nightwish? And would Nightwish fans like us? Probably not!

“Some of my dreams are a bit too outlandish to come true…

She rounds off: “In terms of goals for the band, I’m not one of those people who necessarily believes that bigger is better.

“I think the goal is to create meaningful art that connects with people on a deeper level, to continue feeling inspired musically… and to continue exploring new musical avenues.

“I’m perfectly content with not headlining Download Festival.”