REVIEW ROUND-UP: Svalbard, Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers, Air Drawn Dagger

Artwork for Svalbard’s ‘The Weight Of The Mask’


The Weight Of The Mask

Svalbard’s trajectory in the UK’s heavy scene is more interesting than many will give it credit for. Whereas the standard seems to be peaks and troughs of explosive hype bursts (even from some genuinely terrific acts), Svalbard have spent their time growing more deliberately. They’re on a similar plane to, say, Conjurer, acting more as a bellwether for overall scene health rather than a forerunner, while still feeling the benefit of lift from the rising tide. But should it be like that? After all, Svalbard have regularly gone above and beyond typical hardcore fare with a black-metal aspect that’s only become clearer, and used to its most phenomenal effect on 2020’s When I Die, Will It Get Better?. This is a band who still operate within hardcore savagery, but also an all-consuming loftiness at the same time, and that’s regularly deserved more kudos on the frontline than it’s been given.

And on The Weight Of The Mask, while not quite pipping its predecessor in terms of emotional entropy that cuts through sinew by sinew…this is still a Svalbard album! They’re fully aware of their strengths at a molecular level, and how to exercise them in some utterly excellent ways. Opener Faking It might be the best encapsulation of that, in the defiant melody that glows and pierces from the centre of the raging storm and clouds of bleak production. They’ve been able to maintain this colossal sound remarkably well; at no point do Svalbard feel as though they’re straining to recapture the same apices as before. A song like Lights Out is proof positive of how embedded in their DNA that is, from the blastbeats cutting through their own self-contained blizzard, to its airy, heavenly interlude, to the closing run that might be the most triumphant in their own enormity that Svalbard have ever sounded. In terms of indulging in the sensibilities of a true musical behemoth, The Weight Of The Mask has some of their greatest, most effective moments to date.

The beauty of that, though, is how intrinsic to Svalbard’s intent that is. Obviously the dual vocal assault from Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan is a crucial component to that, as the pair capture a palpable anguish in their representation of screaming agony into the void that few are able to compete with. Svalbard’s bleakness is not just for aesthetic; they can cut and bludgeon and incinerate with equally precise and devastating effect. And that makes their occasional pivots into post-rock like on Pillar In The Sand hit with far greater weight, as the emptiness takes over and the cold subsumes even the most raging flame of paroxysm. Black-metal is played entirely for its intended purpose there, with Svalbard’s command only having been honed in finer and finer ways. They really have become masters of the sound they basically pioneered in the first place—the production and playing feel flawlessly aligned with each shift in tone and intensity, and the album’s flow ensures that pacing of momentum never hit awkward blocks. It never loses sight of exactly what it’s supposed to at any point, and that’s so easy to feel.

And while all of that may be par for the course for Svalbard—especially when, again, they did do it ever so slightly better last time—it’s always worth stepping back and marveling at the consistency they display. These aren’t fluke wins by any stretch, and with each new addition to a catalogue burgeoning with excellence at practically every turn, their place among the UK’s finest becomes more and more secure. The Weight Of The Mask is obviously no different, but it’s still hitting remarkably high watermarks with spectacular ease. Bands with a record like that are not common at all, but for Svalbard, this seems as easy as it gets. If that doesn’t scream of a truly special band in heavy music, what does?

For fans of: Rolo Tomassi, MØL, Oathbreaker

‘The Weight Of The Mask’ by Svalbard is released on 6th October on Nuclear Blast Records.

Artwork for Teen Jesus & The Jean Teasers’ ‘I Love You’

Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers

I Love You

First off—amazing name. It sets the tone well for what this is about, but more so, in terms of brandability, you aren’t likely to forget ‘a song by Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers’ in a hurry. Further, it plugs in some perceived gaps that a ‘straightforward’ rock release might present; you’re casting aside any notions of being boring or played-out when there’s noteworthy personality presenting itself in the band’s very name. All of that has no doubt invaluably contributed to the long runway that Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers have been gifted with lately. They’re gearing up for a fast rise, and for largely good reason—a proven headliner-grabber paired with songs that are actually really good.

The results of a clear growth process show themselves at practically all possible turns. Seven years’ worth of melodic refinement is a given, along with some of the rough-and-tumble sensibilities among several of their native Australian rock circles cultivate such a strong impression on I Love You. That’s across a fairly comprehensive set of styles—I Used To Be Fun opens the album and sets up jumpy indie-rock; meanwhile, dynamic arena-ready crescendos on Backseat Driver and Salt and quasi-post-punk strokes of I <3 You and I Don’t Want It make for some suitably wide boundaries. All the while, there’s the inkling of a punk edge rippling beneath the skin, in just the form of energy brought. The sound might be fairly straight-laced but the presentation bristles and crackles in how confident and outgoing a frontperson Anna Ryan is, and how tightly wound their fellow Jean Teasers are.

The depth for this kind of no-nonsense rock isn’t uncharacteristic per se, but some of finer edges on I Love You definitely are. It’s where that punk sensibility comes into play with the most fervour, boiling over explicitly on the fragment of scalding release Cayenne Pepper, but landing with an intensity on Treat Me Better or Kissy Kissy that can be really bracing. It’s an obvious side effect of the lack of dampening that Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers wear prominently, and a nominal ‘riot grrrl’ streak that glows in ethos if not entirely stylism. After all, moments of eased-back introspection like Never Saw It Coming still carry weight, as opposed to a mandated slower one that gives off very little. It’s a benefit of still being on an independent label, to be sure, but character clues would suggest a band unwilling to err on anyone’s side but their own, and they’re all the better for it.

So with that in mind, it goes without saying that Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers are a lot more than just a funny name. There’s undeniable wit, essence and humanity here, affixed to some genuine bangers and a sense that this could be legitimately huge in the coming years. The conditions for it are all here and met with haste, and although I Love You isn’t their debut release, it’s enough of a reset in scope to where it makes too much sense as a jumping-off point. If anything was to define both where Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers are, and the distances they’re capable of going, it really is I Love You.

For fans of: Arctic Monkeys, WAAX, Hockey Dad

‘I Love You’ by Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers is released on 6th October on Domestic La La.

Artwork for Air Drawn Dagger’s ‘Songs To Fight The Gods To’

Air Drawn Dagger

Songs To Fight The Gods To

That’s one hell of a title, especially for what’s ostensibly still a new band. True, Air Drawn Dagger have a few more years under their belt than many others in their position, but it’s relatively recently that their plays for something bigger have started to bear fruit. At least, to the extent that Songs To Fight The Gods To can reasonably reach for the grandeur its title inspires. Here’s an EP for which anything less than complete domination of Britrock and emo and those other orbiting scenes just isn’t good enough, and Air Drawn Dagger’s conscious efforts don’t go unnoticed.

Theirs is a noticeably massive sound, more so that most similar acts can muster. You Should Have Known Better and Title Fight speak for themselves as big, pumped-up alt-rock; meanwhile, GhostsGhostsGhosts (Phantoms) and The Collapse Of Mount Plethora bear the slightest hint of Three Cheers…-era My Chemical Romance, via the 2010s Britrock approach of power over tact. Perhaps that can hold back some of the dynamism in frontwoman Maisie’s voice (as that style is frequently wont to do), but her emboldened presence is more than enough to regain control. And besides, Air Drawn Dagger don’t have the shaved-down, antiseptic quality that prevented a load of that material from feeling exciting. Songs To Fight The Gods To fittingly towers and ripples in its musculature, which is obviously an enormous plus.

The punches land more often than not, and Air Drawn Dagger’s inflated size actually pulls out a fairly effective listen. Big topics come affixed to similarly towering thread of mythology and cosmology, in context if not outright stated. The nebulous protagonist battles their way up an ancient mountain to confront the gods at the summit, an exercise in world-building that might be out of Air Drawn Dagger’s league right now (in terms of full narrative construction, at least), but the determination speaks volumes. Give them a full album and the time to refine it to a fine point, and they could definitely pull this off. There’s already a grandeur to the production and a guitar and bass tone equipped for this kind of tissue-forming power; all that’s left is to weave it into the intended tapestry.

Clearly the MCR influence extends rather far down then, though it’s good to see bands attempting that sort of feat, and not just settling for it as a mere aesthetic decal. Air Drawn Dagger, if anything, have most of an onus placed on big swings just adjacent to theatricality, which is a place containing a wealth of cues for them to really sink their teeth into. What’s shown on Songs To Fight The Gods To is more a truncated snippet of that, though still enough to drum up some curiosity of how far this band can really go. With the right means off the back of this, it could be all the way.

For fans of: My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Tigress

‘Songs To Fight The Gods To’ by Air Drawn Dagger is released on 13th October on Silent Cult Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Leave a Reply