They sure know how to pick their bands at Holy Roar Records. Svalbard is certainly another stroke of genius. This perfect, angry, energy-laden mixture of melodic death metal, hardcore, crust punk and post-rock with female vocals and socially critical lyrics will no doubt gather a lot of fans.
Or maybe it won’t. The question here being whether the metal scene as one of the last strongholds of masculinity can manage Svalbard’s honest, straightforward and predominantly feminist lyrical content.
You’ve probably heard of Svalbard, but if you haven’t, here are the basics: Svalbard were formed in Bristol in 2011. After releasing 3 EPs and two splits, they released their debut album on Holy Roar Records in 2015. It got very favourable reviews. The music, edgy and breath-taking on its own, in combination with the brutally honest lyrics make this band an outstanding project.
While some think that politics have no place in metal, others are welcoming political content. I belong to the latter group. Music doesn’t come into existence in a vacuum. We should therefore embrace individuals and bands who instead of escaping to a fantasy world, beating around the bush (some literally), decide to face the problems and talk openly about the issues that brought them to extreme music in the first place. Because, let’s face it, it wasn’t love, peace and harmony.
So, what do Svalbard sound like? There is d-beat and sporadic blast beat drumming with melodic guitars and screamed but intelligible lead and back vocals that are most of the time mixed into the music giving the end product a distinct forcefulness. But that’s not all there is. The first track, Unpaid Intern, for example, starts out as hardcore/punk and ends as post rock. Most of the tracks feature complex, layered soundscapes, establishing connections to all the different genres listed above. There is even a hint of experimental music in the beginning of Pro-Life. The production is clean, maybe even polished, resulting in a very listenable although noisy sound. The music appears to be shaped around the lyrics, helping to drive the lyrical content home. You can hear the rage in the machine gun like drums in the track Feminazi?! which, you’ve guessed it, is a derogatory term for a feminist. Likewise, you can hear the shock and the inconceivability in the clean and low vocals in the beginning of the track Revenge Porn when Serena sings: “They assume it’s your fault for being a slut. / They assume it’s your fault for being willing to trust.”
Svalbard is not an all-women band, though, as you might have thought. It consists mostly of guys, actually, and they are obviously OK with the feminist lyrical content. And that’s great. Kudos to them. And to Holy Roar Records for publishing this. When there is a referendum going on in a neighbouring country on abortion laws it is not harmless or irrelevant to publish a record with a song titled Pro-Life? and lyrics that state “This body is mine, so the decision is mine.”
Sometimes it’s hard to have hope, as the album title says, yes. But it’s a little bit easier with bands like Svalbard around. While there is chauvinism in the wider metal scene (just recall some of the album covers if you think I’m exaggerating), today, most men support and welcome women who share their interest in extreme music. The other kind will probably go extinct with the rest of the cave men, because no woman in her right mind is going to want to mate with them.
Energetic, angry, forceful, honest. A punch in the face, but with a soothing end. A wake-up punch, you could say. The final track, a post-rock instrumental titled Iorek, has a conciliatory character.