Sound — 7
Senses Fail have returned with "Pull the Thorns From Your Heart" 2 years after the release of "Renancer" which was a huge shift in the sound of the band from emo/rock to straight up hardcore. "Renancer" was received with mixed reviews as it was such a departure from the poppy vocal hook dominated sound, others including this listener welcome the change with open ears, this album is no different in sound. The hardcore sound continues on, and it is done very well in my opinion. "Pull the Thorns From Your Heart" is a purely emotional display from vocalist Buddy Nielsen. Songs are truly written from his heart. Where past Senses Fail songs were filled with references to alcohol or being neurotic, new songs are about personal change and forgiveness. Released on June 30th, Buddy and the guys were just in time with a new release before hitting the road with the Vans Warped Tour.
Before delving any further into the album details, a little back ground is needed. In the fall of 2014 Buddy Nielsen was a guest on the "100 Words or Less" podcast hosted by Ray Harkins. The podcast itself is a very interesting listen as it is centered on new music and independent artists. During the episode Buddy bears his sole explaining a lot of personal issues from his young and adult life (I won't got into too much detail, but if you haven't listened to the podcast yet I would highly suggest it). After listening to the podcast I have a better understanding of where Buddy got his inspiration for a lot of lyrics. Knowing his perspective has entirely shifted the way I look at his previous works and in some cases has made me appreciate songs in new ways.
"Pull the Thorns From Your Heart" is very similar in sound to "Renacer." Guitars are heavy and hard hitting. The ferocity of the guitars is in part due to the .62 gauge bottom string used by the guitarists, the larger strings give the guitars a full bodied and beefy sound not ever before featured in the Senses Fail sound. Dare I say they are a little sludgy? Whatever term you wish you label it with, they thick as a masonry wall. Distorted bass tones only bolster the weight of the guitar sounds.
Buddy's vocals fit very well with the heavy guitars as his scream has improved since "Renancer," additionally there are parts that are a little softer where his classic singing voice is perfectly performed invoking a whole other emotional response in the title track "Pull the Thorns from Your Heart." The only somewhat negative thing I have to say about the release is that the drums are not mixed super well, but shouldn't be counted against the record at all because it only adds to the splendor that is hardcore. Another point I want to make about the drums, they compliment the sound of the album perfectly. Probably the fact that they are not over engineered lends to this because not one instrument is over shadowed by another. *Beware of blast beats on track 7 "Dying Words"* There is also a fairly complementary double bass section in that song as well, making it a real head banger of a song.
After my first listen to the record I could not remember one singular part that stood out in my memory, which left me disappointed to be honest. However on listen number 2 and 3 I didn't remember parts per say but I remembered songs as a whole which was more satisfying in my mind.
Lyrics — 8
This record displays a dichotomy not featured in hardcore records of recent years. While the music is chest pounding and heavy, the lyrics are soul bearing and introspective. The lyrics are in some ways a continuation of his "spilling of guts" featured on "100 Words or Less." Nielsen's lyrics are cathartic; I get the feeling that "Pull the Thorns From Your Heart" is just another step in his recovery. Track 2 titled "Carry the Weight" characterizes Buddy's feelings of personal shame perfectly:
"I carried the weight the only way I knew
I was scared enough to lie and say that I'm okay
When inside I was dying, so confused, so alone, so afraid
I hope you never know what it's like to hide a piece of yourself inside
Or to be so f--king ashamed you'd rather kill yourself than be alive."
Love is also a huge theme throughout the course of the record. No love for fellow man but also love for yourself. Again Buddy is almost singing to himself here. Given (our) past struggles we have to learn to love ourselves again and carry on. Loving oneself isn't vain, but you must love yourself before you can forgive yourself of past failures. This is made known in track 3 "Courage of an Open Heart":
"I was so alone, buried in sadness, love dragged me out of it
So alone, buried in sadness, love dragged me out of it
I want to love with the courage of an open heart."
And again in the title track "Pull the Thorns from Your Heart":
"I was so tired of being alone
I was so tired of listening to the chorus in my head
Telling myself I wasn't good enough to be happy or proud or loving to myself
What kind of life is that to lead?"
Buddy isn't afraid to write from the heart and really get his feelings out there. I think it works well and given knowing the back story, I can certainly appreciate the way he has formulated his feelings.
Overall Impression — 8
Senses Fail has created a spectacular record with "Pull the Thorns From Your Heart." It is both an introspective emotional ride and a heavy punch in the gut in the music department. This album was very much anticipated by fans and to this point; this is my favorite release of 2015. The transition from catchy/emo to screaming hardcore has been a good one for Nielsen and company. Buddy is on the path to recovery, but his frequent references to Buddhism and the album's overall positive tone are more a reflection of his own journey than an imposition of his beliefs on the listener. It makes for one of the most musically interesting albums of their career and a welcome change of tone for a veteran band. Pairing this release with his "100 Words or Less" appearance is a must. If anything, Nielsen has tapped his closest human emotions and poured himself into every line, verse and chorus.