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Breaking The Standards: Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan of SVALBARD Tell the Stories That Built When I Die, Will I Get Better?

Photo by Tim Birkbeck

UK post-metal group Svalbard returns this week with their brand new album, When I Die, Will I Get Better? The title itself is a striking question that forces deep introspection, the kind that worms its way into the deepest layers of our mortality. When guitarist and vocalist, Serena Cherry, found the question on the cover of a children's book, it forced her to think of answers to this question. In that search, she found many answers that pertain to different facets of life. Even still, her interpretations do not match that of her fellow guitarist and vocalist, Liam Phelan. Yet, it's a perfect title for an album that is as deep, brilliant, and multi-faceted as the thoughts its name provokes.

Mental health and societal issues have long shaped Svalbard's music. Cherry writes with a certain bluntness that isn't seen from many lyricists and her, Phelan, and their bandmates craft arrangement. Songs like "Throw Your Heart Away" and "Listen to Someone" dive into the darker tiers of depression and other mental illnesses. Meanwhile, "What Was She Wearing" and "The Currency of Beauty" tackle the constant objectification of women and, indirectly, the toll it takes on Cherry mentally. Svalbard also takes on metal media's penchant for reactionary headlines and misused quotes on "Click Bait."

These subject matters are all layered into crystalline compositions rife with hardcore and post-metal ideologies and shoegaze stylings. When I Die, Will I Get Better? is a wonderful coalescence of instrumental experimentation and lyrical terseness that is sharp and incisive in its delivery. It also comes at a most tumultuous time for the band. The recent fallout surrounding Holy Roar Records, their former European home, is the feather in a cap of a roller coaster year for the band's members. However, Svalbard's strength as friends and bandmates weathers any storm in their path. The result is a band at its best, delivering their best songs to date.

Metal Injection sat down with Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan to discuss their new album and the ideas and situations that fueled its lyrics and arrangements. An eight hour time difference meant as my morning coffee ended, their dinner was approaching. Cherry has been working on a solo black metal project recently and stepped away from it to chat. Phelan, in the midst of spending time with his partner, also set aside time to talk.

Listen to an exclusive stream of When I Die, Will I Get Better? now ahead of its release tomorrow. Also, read an in-depth discussion with Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan. Pick up a copy of the record from Translation Loss Records (US), Church Road Records, (Europe), and Tokyo Jupiter Records (Japan).

It's been a tumultuous few weeks in the lead up to this record, but ultimately you all have found a new European home for your record, When I Die, Will I Get Better? in Church Road Records. How have the last few weeks shaped the release and the meaning of this album?

Serena Cherry: That's a really good question. [laughs] Firstly, I want to say thank you for being the first person to get the album title right! The last couple of weeks with the allegations that were made against Alex Fitzpatrick, the owner of Holy Roar [Records], and the allegations being of the nature of sexual abuse—it almost goes without saying it's everything that we stand against in Svalbard and stand against very vocally.

So, the fact that this has happened around the release of this album, an album which is full of songs about questioning this ideology that a woman deserves to be raped because of what she's wearing and questioning the ideology of treating women as trophies or judging them only on their looks. The whole album is sort of about the way we treat women and the aggressive sexualization and possessiveness towards their bodies.

Then for allegations like this to be so close to home and so wrapped up and inextricably linked with the album has been—I mean, basically, I haven't slept for like two weeks because it's such a pain for me as a woman. It's such a painful thing to read about and a painful thing to hear people's stories. We've always been a very, very outwardly feminist band and I take so much flak on Twitter for that. Then this sort of thing happens and it's so close to home. It's very hard to articulate how it's made me feel, but it definitely makes you question everything.

Liam Phelan: I'm still processing the whole thing. As Serena said, we had to remove ourselves from the label because it's something we are completely at odds with. We had to put our words into practice—even though it was two weeks before the release. In some ways, we may have harmed the release, but it was definitely the most important thing to do in this situation.

Cherry: I'd always rather the release was harmed than it came out on Holy Roar Records, to be honest. It’s just not an option anymore after those allegations. I lost all capacity to think in that way, you know what I mean? I wasn't thinking about, “Oh, we’re not going to get views on YouTube or we're not going to sell records…” because, you know, we don't make money from it anyway. So, I'd much rather we stay true to our integrity. We practice what we sing about basically.

I feel like in that situation, it’s the only decision, right? To not sacrifice the entire core of your band for record sales, for clicks, or things of that nature. What have the last two weeks kind of shown you all about yourselves as individuals? It's had to have taken its toll but it all kind of speaks to your collective resiliency.

Cherry: I'd say we’ve actually become better at communicating as a band. During COVID we've been in different cities and we're obviously not practicing as much and we’re just not as in contact with each other as we have been in the past. I think that also comes into play with things like we don't have any shows coming up. So, we don't really have those end goals. But then a situation like this, we've all kind of banded together and supported each other. The group chat has been a lot more active because of it and that's actually really nice to feel like we're all on the same page again, even if it is all on the same page against some really dreadful allegations.

And I've learned that I just can't deal with it. I'm so hypersensitive towards this stuff, anything to do with sexual abuse or women being harassed and stuff like that because I've experienced harassment myself and it just really was incredibly triggering. As I said before, I haven't slept for like two weeks and just couldn’t—you know, when you have nervous energy and there's nothing you can do to get rid of it? I felt so awful about everything that happened. It’s almost like ‘guilty by association’ being a band that was on this label.

I've definitely learned it's good to have the support of your bandmates around you during these difficult moments and that when push comes to shove, we can all really be there for each other.

Phelan: I agree.

Cherry: [laughs]

The cause of the uncertainty in your album release and the allegations around Holy Roar Records highlights a problem in the music industry as a whole, which is abuse in many forms. While the circumstances surrounding Holy Roar are around one individual's sexual abuse, the music industry struggles with abuse of power in many forms. There are unreasonable, entangling contracts for bands. There are instances of attempts to silence accusations from people on labels. Musicians and figureheads use their status to things they want or feel they're entitled to how to spell words, music, combat these things that happen in the music industry.

Cherry: It's weird. It's like we're using the music industry to shout about everything that's wrong within the music industry. [laughs] It's attacking the beast from within the belly, I guess. I think that's the reason why the lyrics are so direct. That's a reason why the song titles often are blunt. As a lyricist, I want to make it abundantly clear that we're not just sort of wearing a badge of feminism because it might aid us. It's basically just the Testament song, “Practice What You Preach.” We are the living embodiment of that.

I would say it's definitely like a kind of speaking out from within, like sort of saying, “Hey, look, this is a fucking cesspool. Let's sort of let's really make use of  the noise of metal to make noise about these problems.” I think a large part of it is because they're desired industries.

It's not the same as in my day job where I just turn up and I get paid and that's that. You’re not considered lucky to have a job in retail, whereas you are considered lucky to have a job in music or the film industry or the fashion industry. Then, in that way, they become exploitative industries because it becomes: what will you do to obtain these roles? How far can we push people? What can we get away with? People are so willing to do anything for these more desirable jobs. And I think that's something that needs to be brought into question.

Phelan: A lot of these jobs start with internships don’t they? That's the only way into them is because you have to work for free to even go for in the first place. You have to be ok with being exploited from the start.

There are many instances in popular media lately, especially over the last handful of years, with this increased transparency in these industries. Thinking music, even stepping outside of heavy metal, the allegations and situation with Ryan Adams. Or if you go into movies with Harvey Weinstein or Louis C.K.—it's these people who, as you said, have this power and they begin to exploit it for their own gain. They also see situations to potentially exploit someone who's in a lesser position than them.

Obviously, it can be very difficult to be in that position and think, “I would act in the right manner.” But what needs to happen if it's caught or seen by the people involved or people around that to mitigate those situations?

Cherry: I think for me personally, there needs to be a larger kind of responsibility on all parts, that it's just not acceptable behavior anymore, that kind of locker room talk and viewing women as conquests and everything about obtaining a woman in a sexual way.

It starts like a really young age, doesn't it? Sort of like secondary school. It becomes a prevalent discourse that it's all about obtaining the women that you want and things like that. I think as soon as we change that way of talking about women, then people can question themselves and their desires and where that actually comes from. Then hopefully that will change because I think it's really difficult to call people out.

Imagine if Louis C.K. had asked me to watch him wank in his office. It's incredibly difficult to put yourself under that pressure and spotlight to be able to say, “This person, this hugely powerful, influential person who is adored by millions of people, did this kind of thing.” And you end up with a real case of like shooting the messenger of, you know, the person who speaks out becomes tarnished and challenged.

You get met with a lot of, “Oh, you're just saying it for attention…” So I think one thing that really needs to happen is to change the way that we talk about women in general from a really early age, but then also to change the nature in which people speak out about these things to make it a safer way to do those things rather than just sort of opening yourself up to a lot of doubt and abuse and accusations of your own.

There's a lot of people that say, “Oh, they're calling out celebrities! These girls are only doing it for their own fame! They're only doing it to make a name for themselves!”

Women can make a name for themselves without having to resort to this. The fact that people use that as an excuse in itself is so fucking sexist.

Breaking The Standards: Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan of SVALBARD Tell the Stories That Built When I Die, Will I Get Better?

Absolutely. Liam, do you find from a male perspective—because for me, I've been in situations personally where a guy friend says things that are incredibly inappropriate or do things of that nature and I found it difficult trying to address the situation. Do you find there's a different or nuanced difficulty in the case of men trying to call out men in some of these situations?

Phelan: I think It depends on the situation. I mean, within the music scene, I think there are a lot of guys who will call out other people. But maybe say, like in a work situation, where ethics aren’t necessarily in the forefront, you're going to come across more people who are kind of casually racist and misogynistic.

My personal experience is that football and women are general topics of bonding for men in work. I’ve had to bring it up and I do it in a jokey way, it’s not as direct as I could be but I like to think that when I do bring it up it makes them think about what they're doing first and foremost and question the behavior that they’ve grown up to believe is acceptable.

Cherry: I think it makes a real impact when another guy challenges a guy's behavior because they just seem to be more listened to because then it's not, “Oh, stupid women moaning on…” If a guy who is also another guy is telling you, “Actually, that's not what I think…” It does have more power to make people rethink their actions.

One example I can come back to is when Sam Carter from Architects called out a guy groping a lady when they were playing a show. That seemed to have way more weight and power to it and made a lot of guys I know realize just how wrong it is from a guy saying it was wrong rather than all the women I know say, “Yeah, I get groped at shows and it sucks.” It took a guy saying it for more people to stand up and take pay attention and take it more seriously.

That situation that you mention does kind of bring up an interesting dichotomy too. Men and women in the music industry and industries at large have their own angles to this issue. I think both of you discussing this emphasizes and shows this dichotomy itself. It's the matter of people not believing women for what they say creates this whole mountain to climb—to have these allegations and taken seriously.

 Then from the men's perspective, you have to break that notion of “it's one of the guys.” It's using the power that you have in that situation. Unfortunately, there's still that shift in power but being able to use that power to really try to make some positive change and help women out in these situations is huge.

Shifting gears, I wanted to ask now that you're with Church Road Records, which is Justine and Sam—who used to be at Holy Roar as well. Where was the decision to stick with them for the album release in Europe versus self-releasing or going anywhere else?

Cherry: We've worked more with Justine over the last four years on Holy Roar than we have with Alex. Alex was very much kind of the silent overseer of everything. Justine was the one we'd be emailing back and forth about all the day to day stuff of being a band on a label. So, we had a really good working relationship with her already. Then just from discussing with her when all of this imploded, I think the fact that she immediately walked away from the label was really—it's COVID! It's really hard to get a job at the moment.

I mean, what stance is that? That's so powerful. That is such a strong move on her part and the rest of the guys on Holy Roar. I think that really showed me that they were on the same page as us in terms of ethics and morals. Then, discussing with them their plans for Church Road and the fact that she was so hardworking to make sure the detriment to this whole situation caused the album was minimal.

It just made me really happy. It’s not like I didn't have faith in her before, but I've got triple faith now in her. So, to me, it was a no brainer. It seemed like the absolute best option to go with someone who really cared about us as a band and understood us already as a band.

Phelan:I completely agree. It was a complete no brainer. She’s already put in all the hard work on the album. To take that away from her with two weeks to go would be ridiculous. We were a team already and for all of us to step away from the label, it makes sense for us to continue as a team going forward.

Absolutely. It's just different branding almost at this point, from what it sounds like when she had all the work already. She's got her own name now—her own brand.

Moving into the record itself. The title of your new album shares the name with a very morbid children's book. I read in a recent interview, Serena, you talked about how the title really stuck with you not only as someone who's living with depression but for other parallels that can be drawn in mourning losses and religion. Would you both be willing to expand on what the album title means to you personally?

Phelan: Yeah, well, to be honest, Serena is the one who deals with the album title and the lyrics, so that’s her side of the “business.”

Cherry: [laughs] Well, does the album title mean anything to you?!

Phelan: [laughs] Well, of course, it does! I mean, full disclosure, when Serena said she wanted to call the album that I said, “Hmm. Let me think.” [laughs]

But I think it is a great title. For me, coming from a very Catholic background, a lot of my family believe in life after death and the way they live their lives now is very much about thinking of an afterlife. I'm kind of slightly—I’d say realistic, not pessimistic. I think you can live your life the way you want to while still being a decent person and trying not to impact negatively on other people without having to think about anything happening as a reward afterwards. Life itself is a reward. That’s what I take away from it as the title. Its life-affirming.

Cherry: It's one of those phrases where every time I say it and hear it, it makes me wince with how raw and how blunt it is. I remember stumbling across that book and—you know, when something shocks you and it makes you laugh? It was like that. I just kept thinking back to when I die, will I get better?

Then the more I thought about it, the more I kind of applied it to other things. I think it definitely struck a chord with me immediately in terms of coping with depression and feeling like death is a relief from mental illness or an option for escape from that kind of thing.

I feel that ties in with “Listen to Someone,” because when I say that, I realize I'm saying something really scary. The album title almost is about that same thing. Some people need to be prepared to actually hear about the sort of darkest depths of depression and the places your mind goes to, rather than saying, “Oh, yeah, you can talk to someone…” but they can't deal with people who actually genuinely talking about what your brain goes through when you're struggling with a bout of depression.

You know what's really interesting as well another publication has done a piece on this and they've taken the narrative that I was depressed in 2019, but now I’m better. It's actually completely against what the songs are about. They said, “I started going to jiujitsu and now I'm fine!” It's literally what they say. I thought that was really interesting that people still want this idea of a movie ending to things. They want it to be, “I was sad and I've written an album about being sad, but don't worry guys, I’m not anymore!” Depression doesn't work like that and I think the album title serves as a little reminder of that.

That is really unfortunate about the publication. When I got the album and saw the title, and then in prepping for this, looking it up, and then seeing the book that it comes from, I said, “Oh my goodness gracious, this is heavy.” It really forces some introspection no matter the severity of what people deal with—depression, sadness, anxiety—these internal battles we fight. It really kind of forces some deep thought. Does this all go away at some point?

Cherry: You know, I still haven't been able to bring myself to read the book.

I found it on Amazon. There are only used copies out there. I don't think it got a second publication. There might not be a second edition out there.

The title of the record, again, kind of naturally weaves its way into the subject matter of the album, as you stated, and many of the songs do touch on mental illness to some degree or other. Some of the songs are pretty overt in addressing these and other songs seem to approach it through certain things that affect your mental health like relationships and the double standards and objectification of women. For you both, how does either writing lyrics or constructing the arrangements throughout the album help you with the things that you face on a daily basis?

Cherry: I'm going to be really honest and say when I was at my absolute lowest last year, nothing helped and that was when I knew how bad it was. Normally from my day to day life, you're always fighting these battles and you always have bad internal thoughts. But things like going to band practice, playing guitar, writing some songs together would always offer me escape. I’d become really focused on one thing, stop thinking about everything else for a while.

That was always kind of just a form of relief to me. But then I knew it got really bad in 2019 when we were still writing this album and I just wasn't there mentally at all. Riffs were still happening and things, but I wasn't immersed in the writing of it anymore. When it gets up there, there's not really anything you can do. The only metaphor I can think is you're in a car and your mental illness is at the wheel and you're sat in the back staring out the window going, “I've got no idea where this is going anymore.”

Lyrically it’s kind the opposite in the sense of I'm a selfish creator. I don't sit there and preconceive an idea and think about how it's going to affect other people or what other people want or expect me to do. I just vomit out whatever it is that's inside of me and clean it up into a song. So lyrically, it was very cathartic because I would go to write a song about the objectification of women, but then the despair comes through on each one.

I think especially even on “Click Bait,” there’s that bit where I say, “I'm sick of being a stick for misogynistic bears to poke.” There's definitely an exasperation in the lyrics that maybe wasn't there before and that was from dealing with depression at the same time as dealing with all the shit in the world.

Phelan: The other thing was the juxtaposition of points in this album. We were living together when most of this album was written. When Serena was at her darkest point, I was actually experiencing some real jubilant happiness. So, we were kind of at odds with each other. I was coming up with riffs and ideas that were probably coming from a place of joy and love and Serena's lyrics were coming from a place of complete despair and lacking in hope.

I think there were points that were quite difficult because we had a different outlook on how stuff was happening, and we were in different places emotionally.

Cherry: I think you almost hear clashing on the record. What was really weird was some of the prettiest riffs I've ever written, like the lead on “Listen to Someone,” is one of my favorites—that was written when I was really sad. I look back and I go, “How did I even do that?” I think it was it was the sad brain behind the steering wheel, he was doing all the work.

Sometimes you can't explain what comes out when you're in that mental state. There is definitely that kind of tension on the album between where Liam was coming from creatively and where I was, but maybe that's what gives it an edge.

How did you two living together—whether it's through the music you wrote or just life itself—help find some stability?

Cherry: It was probably us not living together anymore that did that! [laughs]

Phelan: [laughs] Yeah, we definitely had some tense moments writing this album

Cherry: Liam’s vegan and I cooked a sausage in his pan.

Phelan: You don’t mess with a vegan person’s pan!

Cherry: I think as the months went on, it became very clear we're very different people and we were really different places in our lives at the time. It was probably quite grating. I think we get on better now that he's moved to London and we have 100 miles between us now.

Phelan: Sometimes we’re a little bit like brother and sister aren’t we?

Cherry: Yeah.

Again, I think it speaks to a collective resiliency. This situation where Liam letting Serena live with you speaks to a kind of bond. Other bands when they get put in situations that bond gets tested. In some cases, it breaks.

Phelan: We’ve managed almost ten years now of arguments and falling outs, and some really, really good times.

Families argue! It happens!

Cherry: That's a really nice way of putting it—to talk about strengthening the bond. That's the best way to look at it.

Breaking The Standards: Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan of SVALBARD Tell the Stories That Built When I Die, Will I Get Better?
Photo by Tim Birkbeck

Diving into the record a bit… Something I wanted to talk about—because I got the lyric sheet and read the lyrics to “Click Bait” and was like, “Yes, that's something we need to talk about.”

Given my position and platform with the publication site like Metal Injection, “Click Bait” kind of hits a little close to home with, admittedly, things sometimes my site posts, but a couple of other major metal publications and just kind of music as a whole post as well. In “Click Bait,” you describe how press outlets mix words and use you as a woman to fuel comments and clicks.

Again, I adamantly agree there's way too much stock in reactive headlines and decontextualizing statements to kind of fit their own wants, like you mentioned earlier, with the other publication. Then also somehow in 2020, “Female-Fronted” is still a genre. What do music publications, especially heavy metal ones, need to do to eliminate these tropes? What does a plan of action look like?

Cherry: This is a really good question. I think, first of all, stop with the segregation. My advice would be: every time you publish an article with a woman in the band, it doesn't need to allude to her gender in the title. It doesn't need to be “female-fronted band, this and that,” or “this band speaking out against guys in the genre…”

I think my issue is by segregating and highlighting the fact that we’re women, you’re making it this weird “I'm known to be a woman in metal more than I'm known to be a guitarist and metal.” The fact that a lot of publications refer to me as the singer or the vocalist when I’m the lead guitarist and I do 60% of the vocals.

It's really demeaning to put these preassigned molds or describe us as “female-fronted” when I would say we don't really have a front person as a band. “Female-Fronted” needs to go. Alluding to females or women in any way, shape, or form in the headline needs to go. Goading women who don't talk usually talk about their experiences as women in metal into answering a question needs to go.

That was actually one of the things that inspired “Click Bait.” I read a feature on Lacuna Coil and Christina Scabbia famously doesn't talk about being a woman in metal. She never has done it. The interviewer–it was done like a Q&A style read. The interviewer asks her three times, “What's it like being a frontwoman? Heavy metal’s really male-dominated…” and just goads her into saying something like, “Oh, I think it's different.” I think she's really tactful. She's like, “I think it's different for women than it is for guys.” That became the headline, but it got twisted to look really negative. It got twisted to kind of sound like, “Christina thinks the guys have it easy” kind of thing and that is not what she said at all. But, you know, it worked. It got me clicking and that's what they're looking for.

So, stop treating women as fodder for your clicks and stop implying that there's a gender war because it's not women versus men. Everyone always goes on about metal being this utopia of, “Oh, metal’s so welcoming. We don't care about your age, race, gender. We just care if you like metal.” But, you know it’s actually, “Oh, women only like it to impress their boyfriend.”

It's such a false community in many respects. The other article that inspired me was the article and headline about “Women have the most interesting voices in metal” which is misleading in a way because a lot of people took that to mean vocals, which it didn't. It meant like lyrical voices. So, it was really confusing. I think it was deliberate so to generate more comments about whether women can do guttural screams or not.

But also, it was it all about women's lyrics and voices and they didn't interview any of the women they talked about. The whole thing was about our voices and we didn't even get a say in the feature! That's where my issue came from. You can't have a guy sit there and write this article and not even interview any of the women!

It's been a problem for as long as I can remember. I've been with Metal Injection and writing to some capacity for over five years. I think back and Revolver used to do the “Hottest Women in Metal” thing. There are still these questions about what's it like being a woman in metal and it's almost tokenistic and I feel like it gets done a lot for the wrong reasons.

Cherry: And bands that we were lumped in with on this article were like Myrkur, Venom Prison—obviously all great in their own respect—they don't sound anything like us. So, the only thing they were basing this link on was the fact that we're all women rather than our music complements each other. When you're doing it like that—when you're making a playlist or the music doesn't complement each other, but it's all women—that's when it's a bit fetishizing, you know what I mean? Like, it feels like people are only listening because you're a woman rather than because they're interested in your band.

Phelan: It’s like people comparing Devin Townsend to other people with skullets. [laughs]

Cherry: [laughs] There’s your pull quote right there!

Liam, do you feel that the band's overall contribution is slighted when it gets reduced to “Female-Fronted” or things of that nature? People look past the musicianship and instead just see the woman in a band.

Phelan:I think it definitely happens. I think Serena's talked about it in quite a few interviews, this positive discrimination. There'll be a lot of emphasis on, for example, one thing I've noticed with reviews of the album is—I'm not sure if this is just because of Serena being female or because people think we sound the same or something—there’s only a mention of Serena's vocals. Would you say that’s fair, Serena?

Cherry: Yeah.

Phelan: Which is fine. I'm just some 40-year-old guy with a ginger beard, you know, like, there's nothing special about me. But it does make it kind of tokenistic, as you said, with just focusing on the women in the band when, for example, Mark’s drumming is incredible. I feel like it doesn't get talked about because, you know, he's a guy and we're in a band with Serena, if that makes sense.

Cherry: I think it's really highlighted when you say the vocal thing because I'm not the sole vocalist. So I imagine it would be like reviewing an old Linkin Park album, but only talking about Chester [Bennington] not talking about Mike Shinoda, you know?

Phelan: That's basically what happened with them anyway, isn't it? [laughs]

Hey, I think you're actually right! That might be the case!

Cherry: That might be a bad example. That shows how many Linkin Park reviews I've read. But, it is weird because they're obviously highlighting the vocals in the album, but they're only talking about mine and I only do like maybe 55, 60% of the vocals on the album. So, that is a particular one that really irks me.

If you're going to talk about the vocals, maybe talk about the contrast between mine and Liam’s voice. Maybe talk about how Liam delivers it or talk about Liam delivering feminist lyrics written from a female perspective, but it’s done as a male backing those claims. I think that's a really unique and powerful aspect to Svalbard that you don't see in a lot of bands, but every review skips that. Also, no one talks about me as a lead guitarist because remember, the women are never the lead guitarist. So, it's difficult they describe me with that, I have to be the singer.

Phelan: It doesn’t fit the narrative. They always kind of have to paint you a certain way, I guess.

It does and I’ve noticed that too. Things get shaped to fit a narrative, down to mislabeling your contributions into the band and I also see it in the adjectives used to describe things, the women's voices described as angelic or things of that nature.

I think when you get into some of those tropes, it really begins to take away from the complete contributions of members and things like—I'm going to be completely honest right now. I didn't even think of the fact that Serena, you're writing these lyrics and Liam's delivering them from a male perspective in support of what you've written. It's things like that that I don't think get enough light shed on it.

Cherry: Yeah, I agree.

Phelan: With “Click Bait,” for example, a lot of journalists will almost try to get it out of you because they want a feminist piece, so they're asking you some questions, trying to lead you down a certain path answer wise, get that pull quote that will have all the men raging, whereas they could speak to me or Mark about our beliefs in the lyrics that Serena writes. They want to put Serena as a lone woman shouting about feminism when it can also be Serena and two guys backing her up.

Cherry: I'm actually really intrigued as to what the comments would be like if they did the kind of piece that they do about me, but with Liam. So, like Liam talking about the way women are represented in metal. Liam talking about the way women are treated or things he's seen in the scene throughout the years, people getting harassed at shows or whatever. I think it'd be really interesting to see whether they would be interested in talking to a male feminist and what the reactions would be like.

You’d probably get a lot of “simp” in the comments, right? [laughs]

Well, Liam, if you're cool with it, let's kind of make it that piece. What are your thoughts on this and how women are represented in metal?

Phelan: I feel like I inherited toxic masculinity from my peers, the male role models in my life, film, and television. It's very much a learned trait. I started seeing issues with the way I was behaving towards women in my late teens and early 20s, I realized that it’s not right and I’ve been working on becoming a better me ever since.

I feel like I'm a very different man from the man I was 20 years ago and definitely in a positive way. I find it ridiculous when people are commenting on pieces that Serena has been a part of saying she doesn't know what she's on about. It’s always men doing this as well, saying “She doesn't know what she's on about. No one's misogynistic in metal.” You're putting words into a woman's mouth. That’s Misogyny!

Cherry: You’re literally denying my experience. You can sit there and tell someone, “Oh, someone tried to take upskirt photos of me as I was playing.” Then they’ll say, “That didn't happen. You’re wrong. Metal is perfect.”

You highlighted something interesting there, Liam. You started to recognize and you started to learn that something's not right here, I feel a big root of a lot of this continued issue is there still isn't enough highlighting and education and discussions on what is appropriate and what is not appropriate–whether it's in this microcosm of heavy metal or if it's the world at large.

Phelan: For me, it's an ethical standpoint. I can see that you're treating a woman differently than the way you're treating a man. Personally, I want to treat everyone nicely and be a nice person and not have a negative impact on people's lives. I'm not perfect and I have impacted negatively on people's lives, I'm sure I have. I still will upset people occasionally because I'm a human and, you know, it's a learning process. I want to spend the rest of my life learning and trying to be a better person, treating people the way that I would like to be treated myself, no matter a person’s gender preference, race, age or belief system.

Cherry: I think, something that's really kind of good to think about, about these situations are the narratives that are force-fed to people from a young age and things like Hollywood. Mainstream cinema, every single film, the woman is the supporting role and basically the trophy. You watch any kind of like—well, apart from Captain Marvel—any Marvel film and the woman is the trophy to signify that the man has won the war.

We've been fed this for years and years and years and years. There’s this mentality about what a woman should be—basically existing to be a reward for a guy, a conquest—is so permeated and so woven into the society that it's really difficult for people to extract themselves from that and figure out how they actually feel about women themselves.

A key example would be, I read an article on a local paper talking about this guy who sent one hundred letters. He bumped into a girl in a park. She gave him a fake phone number because obviously she was freaked out by the strange man asking for the phone number and he didn't believe that she would give him a fake phone number so he wrote a hundred letters and posted them to the surrounding neighborhood through people's doors saying, “I'm looking for this girl. This is her first name. Does anyone know her? Does anyone know where she lives? She's the love of my life…”

This paper reported on it, calling him a romantic hero and saying, “If only more guys were like this. Oh, we hope he gets what he deserves. We hope he gets the girl…” This ideology that women need to be pursued, hunted, and ground down until they say “yes” basically links to rape culture. How deluded can this person be? But the fact that it's been reported on as if it's a good thing—that is harassment. That's stalking. Can we just accept it for what it is?

That's absolutely creepy as fuck.

Returning to the whole “metal is an inclusive utopia.” That is the most utter bullshit I have ever heard in my life. You spend twenty minutes on Twitter or the comments section of any metal publication. Women, black men and women, and non-binary and trans individuals throughout heavy metal, their contributions, and their voices are continuously discredited. We still have a fucking Nazi problem. Not only is it a bad character and it's a bad ideology, but the people who make that music—the music sucks itself. So, you have bad taste, too. None of the Burzum albums are good.

This notion that heavy metal is this inclusive, untouchable utopia where brothers and sisters come to hang out has been one of my biggest bones of contention with heavy music since I've been listening to it as a teenager.

Cherry: Yeah, the thing is, people get defensive. If you say, “Okay, metal has a racism problem.” Instead of going, “Yeah, I care about metal too and I've noticed this and I want to evolve and change. I know. you're calling this out because you care about metal and you want it to be better.” Instead, it's, “You're wrong. You're a fucking idiot. What do you know? Metal is great. No one has any time for Nazis. If I see a Nazi I’ll punch them…” Yeah, but you wouldn't though, would you? Oh, what is… Is that an Iron Cross on your Slayer shirt?

It's ironic because of what you just said. You will point something out and then the people who just said, “Metal for everyone” immediately say, “Fuck you.”

Cherry: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, like why so defensive? If you say metal is so inclusive and you care about that and you want it to evolve, you need to stop like locking it down. It's weird. It's like they locked it down in the 90s and they don't want things to ever change or ever progress. People get very, very defensive when people call out shitty behavior in metal.

Another thing that is really interesting is how the rules seem to be different, depending on who you are. So, Phil Anselmo gets away with so much, but from Hoest from Taake doesn't get away with those things. There definitely seems to be fractions that it's okay to hate and then people that it's not okay to hate.

I know it's quite fresh at the moment, but all the Marilyn Manson shit or you read Motley Crue's autobiography. There’s that bit where they talk about drugging the girl and taking turns to have sex with her in the closet. That is gang rape, but apparently that's fine and we should all rejoice their comeback. It's weird how certain genres it's okay to attack but then certain people are untouchable.

Yeah, it's a good point. Phil Anselmo is a perfect example of it. Motley Crue is another great example of it. Most of the 80s hair metal is a great example of it. These people are seemingly untouchable and still somehow have jobs with what they do, and it boggles the mind. Like Phil Anselmo hasn't written a good song in twenty years. Yet these people continue to have voices and our publications interview those people. Marilyn Manson is a perfect example of it right now because it's so prevalent.

The allegations against him come from a very high-profile person in general and I think it's been known forever that he's sleazy and yet he's still getting reviews on his very bad new album. People continue to look at his career as a whole as this prolific musicianship because he wears face paint and he's got two different colored eyes.

Cherry: and Trent Reznor wrote all of his good stuff [laughs]

And Trent Reznor wrote all of his good stuff! I think in a way, it does kind of circle back to some of the things we talked about and I think Manson is a great example of there's a perceived power with someone in the music industry and he is using his perceived power as a means to gain control over someone else. Again, it just highlights this prevailing issue throughout music.

 I feel like since metal is still relatively small, it's a really big thing for what we enjoy listening to. And ultimately, I feel like bands like Svalbard and many other bands in this realm do a really good job of addressing these issues and being able to shed light on these things. I think, not to make light of the situation that has happened in the lead up to this album, but how you all so swiftly managed the things that went on and didn't sacrifice your ideals for—ease, comfort, the dollar—it speaks to a little bit of hope that people will see these actions and realize this is not okay.

Cherry: As much as it's been like a hellish time. I'm sort of proud of how we reacted and what we did as a band and the action we've taken. It has been really stressful, but for me, there's no other option.

Phelan: The messages we had with each other were, “This has happened. How do we proceed?” Everyone agreed, “We have to leave Holy Roar”. So everyone's on the same page immediately with everything. Our personal relationship with Alex, the history of us being on Holy Roar, none of that came into the equation because we knew exactly what the right thing was to do.

Despite any problems we've had, this situation is still about the women who made the allegations in the first place, supporting them and supporting their statements. Also, we’re going to donate a pound for every physical release sold to Rape Crisis here in the U.K. So, it's trying to make something good come out of a really terrible situation.

I think it's really important that you all are doing that as well. Again, it does bring a really positive, productive response to everything that's gone on.

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