Extracts from a Kerrang interview:
“I ’m sorry,” says Serena Cherry. “That’s really depressing, isn’t it?”
For the past two hours, Serena and Kerrang! have been sat on a bench next to the River Thames in Surrey, under the sunset of a mosquito-bitten June evening. For her and Svalbard – one of the finest metal outfits in the UK – things are currently lovely. A couple of days before we meet up, she and her bandmates – fellow guitarist and singer Liam Phelan, bassist Matt Francis and drummer Mark Lilley – performed to 10,000 people in a rammed tent at Hellfest, the latest stop in a diary of festivals that have seen them criss-crossing Europe all summer.
In spring, they spent a month on the continent playing huge venues with Cult Of Luna and Russian Circles. In October, Svalbard will release their excellent fourth album, their first for German metal powerhouse Nuclear Blast (a situation Serena’s very happy about, being that it makes Svalbard colleagues with her favourite band, Nightwish). More recently, this evening she’s had dinner in wagamama.
And against this wonderful backdrop, Serena is unpacking the lyrics to their new single, Faking It.
“You could look at my social media and think I was the happiest person in the world, that I must be living on cloud nine, and that everything must be great,” she says. “The reality is, I'm probably also the loneliest and saddest I've ever been.
“My natural default is sadness. That horrible, sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach – that’s just me, 24/7. Feeling uneasy, feeling nervous all the time, feeling anxious all the time, not being able to sleep, not being able to eat – that’s just every day standard for me.”
Though Serena has dealt in weighty lyrics before, she's also often fitted her own description as “metal Minnie Mouse”. Becoming something of an icon in the British underground over the past few years, she's the rollercoaster-loving-anime-nerd-guitar-hero with a weakness for video games, cheesy Euro metal and Frozen.
Here, however, we find her looking back at pictures of herself in good times: ‘I wonder, who is this? / I don't recognise that smile / How is it so convincing?’ The chorus speaks of feeling not joy, nor hope, nor love. ‘How...’ comes the question at one point, ‘...am I making it seem like it’s fine?’
“[The song’s] about feeling like I'm just faking my way through everything,” Serena explains. “Faking the happiness, faking the confidence, faking connections. And when you start to worry that everything is dishonest in your life, that mental spiral gets very, very intense. It becomes really, really hard to stop yourself from questioning absolutely every aspect of yourself and your thoughts and your identity and wondering what's real any more.
“I'm just really good at pretending now. You can be really struggling with mental illness, but you can't cry all the time. You don't want to affect everyone else around you. You don't want to be a downer. So you put on a face of positivity.”
It’s descriptive of the album, unambiguously titled The Weight Of The Mask, as a whole. Nimbly dancing on the lines that sit between metal, hardcore and blackgaze, there are moments that thrash with the aggression of a fight, and others that sound as barren and lonely as a glacier. It is fantastic, building and expanding their already lush sound into an even more widescreen version.
It's into this that Serena has not so much poured her heart as taken it out and squeezed it until there’s nothing left. Likening the lyrics to “reading my diary, my most private thoughts”, they speak nakedly and in plain language of depression, self-loathing, heartbreak, fear, loneliness and the disconnection that all of the above can impose on a person.
‘Is that really the goal? To be so numb that I won't feel sorrow?’ reads a line in Be My Tomb. On November, she speaks of ‘My heart so dead and broken… Never feeling love, but never feeling pain,’ while on Lights Out, she offers a stark, ‘I am too depressed to show you how depressed I really am.’