Despite the fulminations of the more self-confident and messianic among us, no one can definitively answer the question posed in the title of Svalbard’s third full-length. Still, if it all ends tomorrow—whether by personal, political or environmental apocalypse; take your pick at this point—the Bristol, U.K. trio can rest in peace knowing they didn’t merely make a better record than 2018’s solid It’s Hard to Have Hope, but delivered the first truly great album of their career.
Which is to say, When I Die, Will I Get Better? finds the many various seeds of greatness germinating in the Svalbard back catalog at last fully, gorgeously blossoming. To torture the metaphor a bit more, it’s as if Alcest, post-Jane Doe Converge, Rainer Maria and Poison the Well started working overlapping plots in the same community garden—and the results are fucking awesome. There is just so much more nuance and texture here than in the past; a more fully evolved and expanded sense of grandeur and transcendence. On previous albums, the base of the band’s sound was well-executed, but a bit stock and buoyed by the exhalating flourishes and experimentations at the edge. Now those flourishes and that sense of adventure is the foundation, while guitarists/vocalists Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan have become more adept at defining and intertwining their respective voices.
If you’ve enjoyed Svalbard in the past, get ready to have your expectations subverted and mind blown. If you’ve been lukewarm previously, it’s time to give the band another spin. A most welcome surprise.
Review taken from the October 2020 issue of Decibel, which is available here
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