Review Summary: Satisfyingly brimming with James Nielsen’s patent self-destructive anguish, The Fire doesn’t break any new ground, nor will it win many new fans, but it proves to be the most consistent Senses Fail release to date.
Often the subject of ridicule for their clichéd lyrics, repetitive themes and oft-shrill vocalist, Senses Fail is guilty only of pursuing a now time-tested avenue of musical expression. Belting out above average post-hardcore filled with alcohol, depression and all the late-adolescent angst one can handle, Senses Fail continues their success with The Fire, an album that fulfills despite featuring only the slightest vestiges of musical progression. Though still stuck in the shadow of Still Searching and its magnificent three track conclusion, The Fire proves to be Senses Fail’s most consistent release, fed by huge choruses, improved overall vocals and another hard-hitting, cathartic effort by Buddy Nielson.
Though lacking in pure vocal talent, James “Buddy” Nielsen and his hysteric voice have been the defining musical facet of Senses Fail since the band’s inception eight years ago, and with the band’s fourth studio release little has changed. After what can only be described as a castrated performance on 2008’s Life Is Not A Waiting Room, Nielsen returns in 2010 with a stronger showing, the largest improvement coming in the delivery of his harsh vocals, as evidenced by the powerful scream sections on opener “The Fire” and “Lifeboats.” Though the songwriting and lyrics largely follow the same archetypes of depression and substance abuse that stem from Nielsen’s personal experience, they feel revitalized this time around, reborn with a new burst of passion and energy. The typically dark, despairing tone of the music has also undergone a makeover, as a sizeable section of The Fire holds, of all things, hope, as if Nielsen finally seems to be emerging from his six-plus years of continual self-annihilation.
Instrumentally, Senses Fail, show little evolution from their previous album, with the same power chords, shrieking guitar leads and chugging drums as prominent as ever. The loss of Heath Saraceno seems to have affected the band little, as the guitar remains exciting and a perfect atmospheric compliment to Nielsen’s voice. A contrast between pop-punk and hardcore influences is definitely present, as tracks like “Safe House” and “Heading West” feature a more upbeat, commercial vibe, while “Lifeboats”, “Irish Eyes” and “Coward” carry a heavier, more belligerent sound.
The real fun in The Fire lies in the huge, catchier-than-Ebola, sing-a-long choruses Senses Fail orchestrate within nearly every track. The title track, “Saint Anthony”, “New Year’s Eve”, “Landslide”, “Nero” and “Irish Eyes” feature some of the catchiest choruses Senses Fail have ever written, making the album easily memorable after just a few listens. Several songs, most notably sure-to-be-underrated closer “Hold On” are worth giving several listens, as they feature slower, ballad-esque elements not typically associated with the band. While failing to be as desperately explosive as “Martini Kiss”, not being the tragic narrative climax that is “The Priest and The Matador”, and lacking the slumber inducing melancholy beauty of “Blackout”, “Hold On” serves as a fitting closer to the album, featuring an uplifting chorus, a rare guitar solo and an exceptional vocal performance.
A steady, well-rounded release that sees Senses Fail settling into a pleasing comfort zone, The Fire doesn’t break any new ground, nor will it win many new fans, but it proves to be the most consistent Senses Fail release to date. With a tad more maturity than and just as much anger as before, Nielsen and company unabashedly flaunt their angst-ridden sound, throw in a pinch of hope, and prove that even when strewn upon the turbulent, critically shelled battlescape of mainstream Post-Hardcore, from the ashes they will rise.