Going into Svalbard’s second album It’s Hard To Have Hope, there are no promises of an easy, uplifting listen whatsoever. As if the title alone wasn’t enough to keep thoughts of sunny pop-rock well away, the Bristol band have never been known to hold their piece when it comes the bleakness of modern life, stemming all the way back to their 2015 debut One Day All This Will End. Even for a band tipped among underground hardcore’s best with their fusion of battering, feral anger and a sense of black metal expanse, Svalbard haven’t been resting on their laurels; they’ve weather the elements for the past couple of years to return with another damning indictment of an unbalanced, damaging society.
And as a means of getting that point across, It’s Hard To Have Hope feels as though it does absolutely everything it needs to to get it across. This is the sort of oppressively dense, harsh listen that acts as a mirror to everything it rallies against, but with the crucial advent of scale and melody thanks to its excellently integrated black metal passages, there’s an inherent vulnerability that links every other bit of nuance together. The fact that it remains fairly latent works in its favour too; this is an album that wants to rage and revel in white-hot catharsis, as the searing, screaming guitars and Serena Cherry’s guttural bloodletting on a track like Revenge Porn shows, but with the wash of icy subtlety that features so heavily across the album, it becomes all the more engulfing. With a fantastic production job that emphasises every hard and soft texture as much as they need to be, It’s Hard To Have Hope stands as a real instrumental force in how visceral it consistently is.
Of course, where this album really holds its own is in the lyrical content, which is perhaps even more visceral again. For one, a heavier focus on ground-level issues keeps the fury focused to an even greater degree, and when tackling the likes of unpaid work opportunities on Unpaid Intern or the selective breeding of dogs over adoption centres on For The Sake Of The Breed, the specificity is what really gives these topics weight. That’s not to say that Svalbard ignore the larger picture though, and from the anger and frustration at the uneducated misrepresentation of feminism on Feminazi?! and the string of sexual misconduct towards women at live shows on How Do We Stop It?, the anger is just as palpable. That’s clear even from the song titles alone; not only is there such an incredible bluntness to Pro-Life? and Feminazi?! that gets their individual points across without any elaboration, but it shows the incredulity of these terms in the public lexicon, and Svalbard’s adamant desire to stand against them.
It’s powerful stuff all the way through, and even without all that much variety, that never hinders how huge and engulfing this album is. As far as wrecking social commentary goes, It’s Hard To Have Hope stands as pretty tough to beat, refusing to be held back or compromised in its intent, and it shows. Svalbard are now among those leading the charge in pushing purposeful, intelligent hardcore to new heights, and It’s Hard To Have Hope is one of the best examples in some time.
For fans of: Employed To Serve, Pariso, Oathbreaker
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘It’s Hard To Have Hope’ by Svalbard is out now on Holy Roar Records.