Sound — 8
Senses Fail is an American post-hardcore band that sprang onto the scene in 2004 with its first album, "Let It Enfold You." The band's second album, "Still Searching," was even more successful, reaching as high as #15 on the US charts and even managing to crack the UK charts at #150. Unfortunately, it has been downhill since then. Each album since "Still Searching" has charted lower than its predecessor has. Even this album is all the way down to #109 on the US charts. Senses Fail has also had numerous lineup changes during its lifetime and the only original member remaining is lead singer Buddy Nielson.
A likely consequence of multiple lineup changes is an evolving sound. Proving this notion, the second song makes it clear that this is not the same Senses Fail. Buddy Nielson's voice and lyrical content may be very familiar to fans, but I venture to say that the instrumentation has gone through a mini metamorphosis.
There is still a fair amount of fast, bone crushing post-hardcore; "Dying Words" is a rather painful example, but "The Courage of an Open Heart" is a winner. However, the really interesting thing is how the album includes soft, almost peaceful songs that draw from many genres. The hard songs appear narrow-minded in comparison. For example, "We Are All Returning Home" sounds like a Deafheaven song with its dramatic clean to heavy changes and its sustained, drone chord sections that are complemented by scream vocals. In a somewhat similar vein, "Surrender" and "Carry the Weight" sound like shoegazing with their respective walls of sound and their calming vocals. "Surrender" also bears a striking sonic resemblance to "Champagne Supernova" by Oasis for its benign, floating-on-clouds vibe. And though it is not a soft song, "The Importance of the Moment of Death" has a very catchy chorus, which is buoyed by a simple chord progression. This song would be a breath of fresh air for the listener who is not a full-on metalhead yet. The last direct comparison worth noting is the bridge of the title track, which sounds like Senses Fail pulled it straight from a Muse song.
Zack Roach and Matt Smith do a great job taking care of the guitar work. First of all, they play with excellent tone. Their hardcore tone is loud and raucous but never buzzy, as often occurs with a distortion heavy band. They also do a good job of cleaning up for the more peaceful sections of the album. Furthermore, much to my surprise, it appears that Roach and Smith are using complex chord structures, allowing them to go past the regularity of power, major, and minor chords, though it would be incredibly hard to purge the album completely of these facile and popular constructions. Above all else, this guitar duo knows how to match their parts to fit the mood of the songs. Aside from Buddy Nielson and his vocal ping pong between clean and scream, the guitars account for most of the dynamics on the album as the bass and drums stay fairly constant.
Finally, the production of the album is of a much higher standard than I would have expected. Someone deserves credit for mixing the album clearly instead of making it sound like it is a low-fi demo recorded in a garbage can. It is even possible that the production of the album accounts for the dynamics more than either the vocals or the guitar parts do.
Lyrics — 8
Buddy Nielson's vocals are impressive. The dramatic turns between clean and scream vocals demonstrate his vocal control and his good decision-making in matching certain styles to certain songs. The only instance where his vocals feel out of place is the chorus of "Pull the Thorns From Your Heart"; it sounds like he is spitting his words from his mouth in such an abrupt manner that the flow of the song halts.
Other than that one instance, it is clear that Buddy Nielson possesses a fair amount of vocal talent. One area in which he particularly excels is his pronunciation; even when he screams, the words are comprehensible. Combining that talent with his above average lyrics results in a venerable vocal performance. Nielson's lyrics are mostly about inner searching (how to live life, one's place in the world, etc.).
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, the most striking aspect of this album is its versatility. The men from Senses Fail do an excellent job interweaving different genres and sounds to mold with the insightful and well-written lyrics. There is a nice balance between the fast hardcore songs and the fresh multitude of songs that makes up the rest. The only real letdown on the album is "Dying Words," which sounds like some sort of deathcore piece gone wrong. Other than that, all of the songs sound good and are different to the point that this album is worth listening to all the way through to get a true sense of it.
Unfortunately though, the band's creative shift away from their earlier material may alienate fans and they probably do not currently get enough exposure to gain a remarkable number of new fans with this album, one that is great, but not nearly groundbreaking enough to fully lift Senses Fail from its downward spiral.