Review Summary: Out of the Waiting Room and into The Fire.
When it comes to post-hardcore quintet Senses Fail, listeners can be grouped into three broad categories. Firstly, there are those who were unlikely to make it through one song due to the, shall we call them, distinctive vocals of Buddy Nielsen. The second grouping is those who were fans of the band’s earlier work; which was raw, aggressive and relatively heavy. Finally, there are many who jumped on board when the New Jersey natives recruited producer Brian McTernan (who returns here) for their energetically catchy second album ‘Still Searching’. It was clear that 2008 follow-up ‘Life Is Not A Waiting Room’ was aiming to ignore the first group and please the remainder, but while it was a solid and consistent release, it ultimately felt a little forced and uncomfortable. Persistently, fourth LP ‘The Fire’ keeps the same objective and thankfully achieves the intended result more successfully.
Bucking their previous trend of building up to their lead singles, Senses Fail waste no time laying out their intentions for ‘The Fire’. Acting as a mission statement for the entire LP, the opening title track bursts out of the gates to make for one of the band’s most memorable songs yet. It is a near-perfect combination of all they have done in the past; where tortured screaming meets an anthemic sing-along, and where soaring dual guitar-work wraps around a galloping rhythm. Simplifying matters, the remainder of the LP follows a similar blueprint, with slight adjustments made to the extent and placement of Nielsen’s improved and predominantly understandable screaming. Tracks such as ‘Coward’, ‘Lifeboats’ and even forthcoming single ‘New Years Eve’ effectively hark back to the band’s screamo roots, while the likes of ‘Safe House’ and ‘Landslide’ tone the vocals back to emphasize their catchy chorus.
Another previous bone of contention regarding Senses Fail has been their attention-seeking lyrics. Once more, this is a clear area of improvement on ‘The Fire’, one which has been born out of a more mature outlook to past experiences. Instead of retaliating to his issues by wanting to stab anyone who gets in his way, Nielsen now looks forward with measured realism. “The rear-view reminds us where we’ve been” he states on ‘Headed West’, while ‘Safe House’ begins with “I’m climbing out of the hole that I’ve been digging”, before later containing the key line “The vultures circle overhead, hanging like halos for the dead, but I’m not suited for one yet”. While ‘The Fire’ has most in common with the band’s debut LP ‘Let It Enfold You’ – and can even be criticized for simply being that album updated – this is clearly an outfit that has made several advancements since that time, and is all the better for them.
‘The Fire’ is also a satisfyingly consistent release. Excluding the standout title track, there is only a minor discrepancy between the quality of its second best song and its eleventh. If anything, it may be too consistent however, to the point where greater variety is required come the final trio. ‘Nero’, ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Hold On’ are all solid in isolation and could even be seen as highlights for some, yet one cannot help but feel that they were missed opportunities with regards to adding further experimentation to dynamics, in a manner (think ‘The Priest and the Matador’) similar to that which made Still Searching’s latter half so surprisingly pleasing. This is not an overwhelmingly negative feeling though, since the album is ordered rather well (heavier songs are never placed consecutively) and does not overstay its welcome at 38 minutes in length (with no track breaking through the four minute barrier).
Just like on its predecessor, Senses Fail are still preaching to the converted on ‘The Fire’. It is not an album which is likely to win over too many new fans, nor is it a release that is serving up much which is fresh and new. Yet, in refining the band’s sound and style so effectively, ‘The Fire’ is ultimately a resounding success which meets its objectives. A little unexpectedly (to yours truly, at least), it is in fact the heavier songs which work best, since the effectual screaming that is used, actually augments the catchiness of the applicable track’s chorus. This fact, in conjunction with the display of gratifying advancements elsewhere, not only makes ‘The Fire’ an excellent album, but also bodes well for the future direction and continued success of Senses Fail.
Recommended Tracks: The Fire, Landslide, Lifeboats & Coward.