Album Review: Senses Fail – Pull the Thorns From Your Heart

imageHeavy music has long been associated with intense feelings; more specifically, negative ones. Anger, hatred, self-loathing, disgust, despair – these emotions lend themselves to the heavier end of the musical spectrum; minor keys and harsh vocals combining to create a visceral, deeply-felt experience. It is often difficult to challenge such conventions, but it can be done. Music as an expression of emotion can be even more powerful when it comes from an unexpected place. Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail didn’t expect to still be in a band by now – he didn’t even expect to be alive by now, as his band’s latest record reveals – but life can be full of surprises. It’s now 13 years since he started the band, and he’s the only original member left. Six albums into a career that saw them reinvent themselves with 2013’s aptly-titled ‘Renacer’ (Spanish for ‘to be reborn’), they have taken things to even heavier extremes, musically and lyrically – and delivered a record with a lot to say.

‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart’ is an album about self-acceptance and letting go of the past. Nielsen has spoken about his chequered history, and his band’s latest work is full of personal reflection on his battles with anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse and – perhaps most importantly – his sexuality. In choosing to openly identify as queer, he’s started a new chapter in his life, but the decision to document his past struggles and put these to the heaviest music Senses Fail have ever released was brave in itself. A scan of the lyric sheet reveals an outpouring of positive emotions, but the music is riff-driven, uptempo and frequently aggressive. Clean singing is kept to an absolute minimum, and when it is deployed, as on ‘Carry The Weight’, the music can sometimes feel reminiscent of earlier material. That song wouldn’t feel out of place on ‘Life Is Not A Waiting Room’, and there are softer moments, such as the post-rock-tinged ‘Wounds’, that prevent the record from becoming overwhelming, at least in a musical sense.

Everything else is full-on; no punches pulled, no holding back. Propelled by downtuned riffs and the accomplished drumming of the band’s newest arrival Chris Hornbrook (ex-Poison The Well), the album is swept along by a wave of passionate ferocity that makes Nielsen’s positive outlook all the more striking; when ‘The Importance Of The Moment Of Death’ drops into a half-time groove and he growls, “I am no longer afraid to die!”, one gets the sense of the weight behind such a statement. It’s quite a contrast from ‘The Courage Of An Open Heart’ when he admits “I had no compassion, no love for myself / There was no relief, except in thoughts of death,” and the punishing heaviness of much of the record provides the soundtrack to a journey of self-discovery that is being released into the world at a time when the scene of which Senses Fail are a part needs more people to speak out about themselves.

In an ideal world, ‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart’ would spark discussion about acceptance, accountability and sexuality in the world of punk. What impact it has remains to be seen, but there’s no question of its life-affirming spirit. With almost a decade and a half under their belts, Senses Fail have been around long enough to see countless other bands come and go; they want to be remembered as a force for positivity and change in hardcore circles, and delivering their career best is some way to make that statement.


‘Pull the Thorns From Your Heart’ by Senses Fail is out now on Pure Noise Records.

Senses Fail links: Facebook

Words by Gareth O’Malley (@vetusmemoria)


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