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No matter when your journey into emo or post-hardcore started, there’s a very good chance you listened to SENSES FAIL for at least part of it. Since 2004, the band have released seven albums amidst a constantly rotating lineup, with only founding vocalist Buddy Nielsen remaining a constant presence in the band. Despite his constant desire to push the band forward, eighth album Hell Is In Your Head is just as much an exercise in looking back. Thematically, it picks back with the characters of fan favourite Still Searching after the events of final song The Priest And The Matador while still looking to improve or expand on their post-hardcore formula.
To that end, the album is rooted sonically in early-mid 2000s post-hardcore but SENSES FAIL have always been more willing to evolve within those confines than their peers rather than solely trading in nostalgia, and are wisened by Nielsen’s new perspective as a father, with all the worries that entails. There’s nothing akin to the overhaul of 2015’s Pull The Thorns From Your Heart and it’s entirely to their benefit. Instead, Hell Is In Your Head lays down a template of where SENSES FAIL see themselves as being now, not where they want to be, or where they were almost 20 years ago.
The first half of the album is something of a concept, at least loosely. Five of its first six tracks (The Burial Of The Dead, End Of The World / A Game Of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death By Water and What The Thunder Said) take their names from the five parts of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, exploring the world of the poem and its topics philosophically rather than telling the story of the poem itself. The Burial Of The Dead is a bold choice of an opener, its slow burn and proclamations of “We only have so much time left / You’ll never know when you’ll take your last breath” referencing the fragility of life and the new perspective Nielsen gained from his wife’s childbirth. End Of The World… introduces the first curveball with guest vocals from current scene stars SEEYOUSPACECOWBOY’s Connie Sgarbossa and an anthemic chorus that channels their penchant for alt rock melodicism.
For the second half of the album, Nielsen returns to his tried-and-tested writing from personal experiences and his own ruminations on death and grief as a Buddhist, as well as a father. More “real time” than the first half, it features the fear of a father raising a child in a world with the far right on the rise (Lush Rimbaugh) and tackling the climate emergency in Miles To Go. There’s a further difference too; the second half written in major key, a sense of learning to let go of that which we can’t control permeating it. Unfortunately, given the strength of the opening half of the album, these tracks rather let the side down, as does I Am Error, which feels shoehorned in amongst its earlier thematic neighbours and simply re-treads ground they did better on Still Searching. They also don’t make the most of Sgarbossa; her vocals are given far less presence than she possesses on SEEYOUSPACECOWBOY’s own material and it’s to End Of The World’s detriment.
Overall then, Hell Is In Your Head is something of a frustrating listen. A mostly strong opening half is let down by a middling back half, with weaker lyricism despite more personal and immediate concerns to Nielsen’s experience of fatherhood. But to SENSES FAIL’s credit, they’ve always taken more risks than bands of their era who continue to trade solely on nostalgia in the hope it hides their lack of creativity; they are always willing to try new things, at least in the confines of the emotional post-hardcore they inhabit.
Hell Is In Your Head is set for release on July 15th via Pure Noise Records.
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The post ALBUM REVIEW: Hell Is In Your Head – Senses Fail appeared first on Distorted Sound Magazine.