The Weight Of The Mask

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Faking It
02. Eternal Spirits
03. Defiance
04. November
05. Lights Out
06. How To Swim Down
07. Be My Tomb
08. Pillar In The Sand
09. To Wilt Beneath The Weight

A wonderfully distinctive force from the very start, SVALBARD never fit squarely into any particular genre definition. Ostensibly a post-hardcore band with shoegaze tendencies, the British quartet have long since outgrown those reference points. Following up the widely acclaimed splendor of 2020's "When I Die, Will I Get Better?" was bound to present a challenge, but SVALBARD have momentum on their side, and a tangible aura of being a band providing something unique and substantial in turbulent times.

Their first for NUCLEAR BLAST, "The Weight Of The Mask" proudly belongs at the wistful, sensitive end of the heavy music spectrum, with songs that touch upon all manner of mental health concerns and melancholy preoccupations, while frequently sounding like an astonishing, kaleidoscopic fountain of liberated noise. More rounded and opulent in sonic terms than their previous records, this is a miraculous, healing bath of a record, with occasional bursts of what sounds like the end of all things.

An astute demonstration of their post-hardcore roots, "Faking It" is a sublime opening gambit. It is rarely noted how fiendishly clever SVALBARD's sound is. From furious hardcore to morbid melo-death, everything is drawn into their euphoric maelstrom of riffs and hooks, and spewed out again with power, grace and pathos galore. Singer/guitarist Serena Cherry's elegantly insidious lead melodies seem to turn every song into a tsunami of tears, but songs like "Eternal Spirits" and "Defiance" are defined by their shapeshifting fluidity. Hazy, soft-focus vocals drift in from nowhere, Cherry and co-vocalist Liam Phelan bark fire over juddering hardcore riffs, and near-magical chord changes conspire to play your heartstrings like an FX-heavy banjo. "November" is a twilit fever dream, with a stately, funeral doom gait and blissful, effervescent vocal harmonies. Cherry's deadpan, whispered poetry is disarming, while a sudden detour in crazed, ice-cold blastbeats is genuinely thrilling.

"Lights Out" embraces a faster pace, and deeper deviations. A subtle but unmistakable whiff of power metal drifts up from the melee, but is soon usurped by rolling waves of lush, rapturous shoegaze that lead into a grandiose, anthemic denouement. Not for the last time, the sheer crestfallen enormity of it all is both impressive and hard to resist. The closing "To Wilt Beneath The Weight" is somehow even more devastating: angst-ridden but dignified, it owes almost as much to hyper-emotional '80s AOR as it does to black metal or post-hardcore, despite Cherry and Phelan's scabrous yelling. Long-time producer Lewis Johns has captured this band at the peak of their chemistry here: "To Wilt…" is vibrant, alive and strongly indicative of musicians that adore playing together.

As much as "The Weight Of The Mask" is an exercise in tender catharsis, it also rocks with a vigor and vitality that could never be anything but uplifting. This is SVALBARD's best album by far, and a welcome side-step away from the lobotomized, caveman norm (which is also awesome, but you get my point).

Author: Dom Lawson
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