Singer Buddy Nielsen has said that this latest Senses Fail album serves as the culmination of a spiritual journey he’s been on since his teens. Maybe so, but it’s also an excellent example of why this band remains as vital today as it was upon its inception all those years ago. A lesser group might have taken the accolades that came with 2013’s Renacer and run with them, unleashing a pale, paint-by-numbers sequel, the kind of lateral move that usually opens the exit door wide for a band, casts it out into the land of has-beens faster than you can say “meteoric rise”. Instead, Senses Fail has pulled together and made a record that is more adventurous musically, more adventurous lyrically, and definitely a promise that Renacer (“to be reborn; to revive”) was as much an album title as a code word for the band’s future.
Pull The Thorns From Your Heart is, in some ways, a new path for the band. There are the familiar post-hardcore sounds you’d expect but also plenty of deeply thoughtful music passages that suggest a collective that is — if not in the Yes sense of the word, then certainly in a broader understanding — increasingly progressive. “Surrender” stands as one of the album’s melodic triumphs and is not only a showcase for Zack Roach’s endlessly imaginative and soul-searing playing but a marvel of production and composition as the quintet traverses just about every shred of musicality it has across the distance of a mere five minutes. That and the album closer, “My Fear Of A Unlived Life”, are equally emotive on the lyrical and musical fronts.
Let’s not forget that anger and frustration are also emotions, which are, to some degree, also in supply here. “Dying Words” wouldn’t feel out of place on a finer Slayer album. “The Three Marks of Existence” and “The Courage of An Open Art” are equally heavy and serve as reminders that, as a wise man once said, anger is an energy, and a potentially transformative one at that. On those songs Nielsen’s vocals are as harrowing the stuff heard in the best of heavy music, while new drummer Chris Hornbrook establishes himself as a more-than-capable addition to the group.
The greatest asset Senses Fail has though is its ability to function as one giant war machine, rolling through the center of your skull and deep into the deepest recesses of your mind: the Roach/Matt Smith guitar axis should give young guitarists plenty to study of a few decades to come and the rhythm section of Hornbrook and Caswell is as good as any drum and bass duos in recent memory. As much as some bands like to boast that heavy music is “cold” and absent emotion, this is music that burns with it, branding its passion into your ears as well as your forebrain. Without that kind of fury and urgency it seems that there is little point to creating or absorbing creations as probing and provocative as this one.
It’s also refreshing that at a time when every numbskull and his numbskull brother proclaims that albums are dead and listeners only care about racing down one song at a time, Senses Fail still gives two bloody Baphomets about how tracks hang together. The sequencing here is superlative, allowing the listener to make the emotional journey alongside the protagonist with all the highs and lows, darkness and light that experiences absorbing each of us, gripping us like the best big screen dramas. When we arrive, at the end, at something like safety, we have an awareness that we did not at the start of the journey and that is no easy feat for any artist, recording or otherwise, to achieve. Those who do it this well can be counted on hands, sure, but let the record show that there will be fingers leftover in the end.
We can only hope that this is just another chapter in a story that will continue to unfold, that the thoughts and emotions here will grow and evolve through another Senses Fail volume and another after that until Pull The Thorns From Your Heart is one day referred to as one of the early entries in the group’s catalog.