How pissed off do you like your hardcore? If the answer is “very”, as it should be, then the second full-length album from Bristol’s Svalbard, It’s Hard To Have Hope, is for you. Svalbard have produced an album that’s a politically outspoken blend of devastating hardcore and melodic post-rock (with a shade of black metal) and screams a righteous message through their riotous music.
With numerous EPs and their excellent debut album, One Day This Will End, already under their belt, on It’s Hard to Have Hope, Svalbard have the means, and indeed the bloody resolve, to use their platform to directly address many difficult problems that are somehow still a part of our modern society. And hell, they do it in an arse-kicking, in-your-face manner!
It’s Hard To Have Hope’s directness is immediately clear with a quick scan of the song titles, which are succinct and honest, and is also evident in Serena Cherry’s lyrics, where she never minces her words and has little room for hidden meanings or metaphors. Through Cherry’s lyrics, both her and fellow guitarist/vocalist Liam Phelan passionately and belligerently scream their socially conscious messages and politically charged mantras with throat-shredding emotion. Tackling head on a variety of issues, they have much to say about feminism, abortion, sexual assaults at gigs, workforce exploitation, online abuse and the detrimental effects of selective breeding in pets. A distinct highlight of the album, even if occasionally one or two lines don’t quite stick the landing, the vast majority of Cherry’s lyrics are catchy, incisive and delivered by the vocal duo with fervour and fury.
As some of the questionable social media responses to Cherry’s well-written Decibel editorial on the treatment of women within the metal community have proven, the passionate and no-nonsense messages of It’s Hard To Have Hope’s songs are definitely (and unfortunately) still needed. The subject of sexual harassment at gigs is also handled extremely well on “How Do We Stop It?” – an openly personal account that raises awareness of some truly horrible acts. I would hope that with some of the other lyrical content Cherry/Svalbard will be preaching to the converted, but through not pulling any punches, they’ll probably make an impression on those not already in their corner.
It could be difficult for Svalbard to put across their point if they weren’t writing music that could back it up, so thankfully their seething, yet melodic crusty hardcore doesn’t only hit the mark, it practically destroys it. In a similar vein to the likes of Birds In Row this is dark, but uplifting stuff and opener “Unpaid Intern” sets the standard right away with Mark Lilley’s fast d-beat drumming and the swirling guitars merging into a slower black/shoegaze closing section. Throughout It’s Hard To Have Hope Svalbard mix stunningly beautiful melodic guitar work (the second half of “Revenge Porn” and the instrumental closer “Iorek” are pure post-rock splendour) with blastbeat-driven peaks, as best demonstrated with the furious black metal crescendos on the otherwise airy “Pro-Life?”.
Maybe the catchiest track on the album, recent single “For the Sake of the Breed” (listen below) transforms from fast, twisting punk in the first verse, to a stomping, anthemic midsection, then to an ethereal, hum-along conclusion. (This track was also one of the highlights of Svalbard’s recent gig with OHHMS at Glasgow’s Garage Attic, but after Serena Cherry’s introduction explaining the song’s theme – ‘adopting animals, not shopping for animals’ I did feel a bit uncomfortable for having a purebred four-legged friend…)
It’s Hard To Have Hope is both melodious and intense, and although the title is downbeat and near pessimistic, Svalbard’s sophomore album is fun, aggressive and ultimately uplifting – just as Cherry screams on second-to-last track “Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead”: ‘I may be aching and exhausted, but life’s not over yet!’
It’s Hard To Have Hope is out now through Holy Roar Records