When the Belorussian project Svalbard started out as a solo endeavor six years ago in 2006, his music was described as a style of neoclassic dark ambiance that can be heard in the backbone of the military pop compositions that he continues to create today — leading one to believe that his earlier material could have perhaps found a home with the likes of Waerlogha and Quartier23 where artists like Hoyland, Aardia, and Uruk-hai are welcome with their epic / fantasy themes and sound. None of these tracks appear to have ever reached the light of day, however, as from the beginning of his career with “Treue Vaterland Jugend” on Der Angriff / Indiestate Distribution, the man behind the music in Vicheslav Shenderovich has been creating a martial folk sound that is heavy on pop sensibilities with the help of the addition of member [K.S.]. That release came in 2009, and it wouldn’t be long before Svalbard would find a new home in the following year with Lichterklang, who released “Heimkunft” — a release that would become the label’s first offering and, consequently, secure Svalbard’s place in this style of music. Since then, Lichterklang has kept up with a modest release schedule, and with “Der Letzte Blick Zurück” offer their sixth release and the band’s third full-length effort.
The music of Svalbard immediately reminds one of Neo-romantic and wartime themes already largely explored by the likes of Rome and Allerseelen as well as many others, but the reminder is really the only comparison to make here as Svalbard really does exist in a unique sound of their own. Svalbard’s approach to composition sounds almost entirely synthetically produced though there is some live percussion to be found on the album — all of which is expertly crafted and recorded, to the point that the production quality that they’ve achieved through their martial side is almost startling if you consider the amateur production that most projects that attempt this style achieve with live recordings. In that regard, there are also some abnormally realistic synth sounds including accordion on tracks like the title track “Der Letzte Blick Zurück (Like Traitors…)” that do a lot to bring Svalbard into their own sound — a sound the exists somewhere between Osewoudt, Uruk-hai, Ostara, Rome and A Challenge of Honour. “Abendland” — or “West” — also features the work of Ukranian one-man martial project Truart, whom hasn’t been heard from since 2010, so his inclusion on this release was a bit of a surprise.
Unlike most music with a martial approach, “Der Letzte Blick Zurück” comes off as surprisingly human in regards to the emotion that is put forth in both performance and lyrics. The album developes as a kind of narrative from a soldier who has faced hopelessness but whose heart remains unchanged by war, speaking about experiences both eluding capture and escaping (“Flucht”) and love back home (“Hellenwalzer [A Song for Elena]”). As such, emotions run very strong throughout the entirety of the album, though strangely the mood only rarely changes. It is mainly the strength behind the mood that changes, a mood which climaxes with the William Blake inspired “W.A.R. (Jerusalem)” and its powerful reverberations of Blake’s line “bring me my chariot of fire!”.
The imagery on “Der Letzte Blick Zurück” brings about another side of the project which is humble and volkish, featuring photographs of wheat fields at dusk and hammering home a sense of a soldier’s simple life away from the front-lines. The album’s final track, “Razvivaysya Syry Dube”, also helps develop this rural atmosphere as a contemporary take on a traditional Belorussian folksong with the non-stop bombast finally being pulled back a bit in favor of expressive dual-gender vocals. A cheerful return home for the narrator, perhaps. This is an exceptional work with an uncompromising quality behind the production of every song. For some, the atmosphere may take some getting used to, especially on the vocal side which, much like the aforementioned Ostara, can often come across as a bit too emotional/expressive in tracks like “Hitmen”. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault in Svalbard’s approach, though admittedly it would do them a lot of good to focus on pushing more actual instrumentation into their sound and trying to get away from so many synthetic sounds.
03) Der Letzte Blick Zurück (Like Traitors…)
04) Abendland (Featuring TRUART)
06) W.A.R. (Jerusalem)
07) Hellenwalzer (A Song for Elena)
08) Farewell to Arms
09) Razvivaysya Syry Dube (Belorussian Traditional)