It’s fair to say Holy Roar Records are having a pretty good year. After a seemingly never-ending slew of universally acclaimed releases, attending Svalbard’s album release show is simply the precursor to what will undoubtedly be another stellar piece of artistry. It might be their evening, but before the Bristolian four-piece graced the stage, the hundred or so people in attendance were witness to something utterly sublime; Møl’s first ever UK show.
Give the genre in which Møl (10) exist – the somewhat simplistic portmanteau, “blackgaze” – you’d expect a sombre, static performance in which the members bear their souls in a display of heart-breaking agony in the manner of Oathbreaker’s Caro. From the blistering opening of Penumbra, vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf wastes no time in wrestling the mic stand around the stage and ramming it against the ceiling before leaping into the crowd to scream into unsuspecting faces. The entire performance comes across as utterly effortless, filled with a theatrical flair and a demanding control of the crowd; the unfathomable complexity of musical phrasing and layering that make up lead single, Bruma and title track, Jord, do not wane for a second or lack the intensity of their studio counterparts, and feel barely contained within the venue. An utterly masterful moment in time captured by the Danish quintet and a show that will be talked about for many years to come
Headliners, Svalbard (8.5), are a truly wonderful band. It’s not simply the incredible blend of subtlety and extremity that they married on their debut, One Day All This Will End, but what they represent. In post-Brexit Britain, alongside the rise of centrist and populist ideology across the Western world, there is understandable, but often undefined anger, as well as an anti-woman sentiment that seems to dominate cultural discourse more prevalently and explicitly with every passing day. Few people can capture and channel the current global mindset such an intelligent, eloquent and cathartic way as Serena Cherry – vocalist, guitarist, mastermind of the project and someone genuinely setting the world to rights – and so they’re more than just a brilliant band; they’re a necessity.
With all of this to bear in mind, Svalbard’s set feels shockingly subdued. Musically, there is not a dull moment, none of the musical intricacy is lost in the evening, but the inter-song patter feels like a missed opportunity to rile up the crowd with fierce revolutionary ideology ala Napalm Death. It’s total anathema to the music on offer, and so leaves their performance a touch disjointed, and after a heckler breaks the flow between the second and third songs, the band appear to be on the back foot and not quite aware of the reverence in the rest of the room. Fortunately, songs like Feminazi?!, and their finale, Revenge Porn, satiate that rebellious hunger, and the latter leaves the band finishing on a skyscraper high moment. It may not be Svalbard at their zenith, but very few bands could be that good on even their best day.