Album Review: Svalbard – The Weight of the Mask

Album Review: Svalbard - The Weight of the Mask
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

It’s hard to quite believe that Svalbard have a dozen years behind them as a band, having formed way back in 2011. They’ve been consistently releasing records since 2015’s One Day All This Will End, playing the 2020 album, When I Die, Will I Get Better? in its entirety at the inaugural Night of Salvation, and are all set to put out full-length number four: The Weight of the Mask.

There really does seem to the something in the water of the British heavy music scene of late, with the likes of Venom Prison, Employed to Serve, Pupil Slicer and more forging a post-Covid renaissance by issuing their best work to date. Svalbard is no exception and this new album lands, three years on from the last, with huge expectations on its shoulders.

And, much as I loved When I Die, Will I Get Better? I have to say the constant touring and almost universal good-will sent in their direction, have allowed Svalbard to put out their best album yet.

The tongue-in-cheek titling of opening track, Faking It, picks up where the previous record ended. We get Serena’s banshee wails and Liam’s cutting guitar play atop pummelling drums from Mark and a reinforced steel supporting bass from Matt. Eternal Spirits feels heavier and more chugging and we start to see the vocals mixing from screams to ethereal, ghostly whispers, bringing on a feeling and a huge scope and ambition.

Album Review: Svalbard - The Weight of the Mask

It's this juxtaposition of sounds and styles that add perpetual interest to the album and make repeated listens a must. Even when you know what’s coming your curiosity is piqued at how the band tie their ideas and concepts together in a manner that doesn’t feel jarring.

November is as chilly as the month from which it takes its name, opening with a sparse and cold echoing guitar and spectral voice, evoking the Other, as it sits low in the mix. Same goes for Pillar in the Sand, which races to a frenzied climax after spending time building the emotion; Lights Out’s mid-section is a moment of calm situated in the eye of the storm, giving some respite to The Weight of the Mask’s most aggressive passages, wrapped in post metal packaging.

Now, this could just be me, but I’m hearing a distinctly Devin Townsend thing going on in How to Swim Down, as the eerie slow build is constantly inventive, lapping like water and feeling akin to something that could have been lifted off the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

Be My Tomb and To Wilt Beneath the Weight are closer to the traditional Svalbard fare, while Defiance leans into a post hardcore sound as Liam’s vocals take a larger and more central role.

The Weight of the Mask sees a band shoulder the weight of the expectations and produce a mature and thoughtful album that is not without its playful moments. Another layer on the ever growing legacy of the new New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

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