Senses Fail – ‘Hell Is In Your Head’

By Sean Reid

Since emerging out of New Jersey almost 20 years ago, Senses Fail have been through numerous line-up changes but the one constant is frontman Buddy Nielsen. At this point, you could suggest that Senses Fail and Buddy Nielsen are one and the same. Over the course of seven albums and three EP’s, Nielsen and Senses Fail have evolved to the point where the band’s songwriting has become biographical and cathartic.

Their eighth full-length, ‘Hell Is In Your Head,’ sees Nielsen’s creative grip on the band tighten, playing every instrument besides drum (played by Dan Trapp) and bass (guitarist Gavin Caswell). Thematically, its 12 songs sees Nielsen address his own mortality, something that we’ve grown accustomed to over his career. Nevertheless, as a relatively new father, Nielsen has allowed himself to take a new perspective, especially on the concept of grief.

Musically, ‘HIIYH’ is executed with a sense of familiarity; emotive choruses, melodic leads, and driving rhythms. Early on, ‘End of The World/A Game of Chess’, soon exemplifies this brilliantly. Joined by SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s Connie Sgarbossa, it’s a blistering, heart-wrenching account of what Nielsen describes as “generational trauma” – alcoholism in his family.

For the most part, ‘HIIYH’ pacing is relentless yet it’s all tied together by Nielsen’s personal narrative. ‘The Fire Sermon’ is introspective as he comments on all of the emptiness he feels and his obsessive thoughts. Whereas on ‘I Am Error’ he realises he now has a purpose, as a father, and that he has to “heal his open wounds”. Later on, the title track sees him tackle his mental health issues. Wrapped in a considerably fun rhythm, it counters its serious lyrical nature.

Elsewhere, the pairing of ‘Death by Water’ and ‘What the Thunder Said’ pull from T.S. Elliot’s ‘The Waste Land.’ Together they weave into Nielsen’s mindset of being a tortured soul, clouded in grief and suffering. While ‘Lush Rimbaugh’ steps away from the album’s narrative, as Nielsen takes aim at deceased right-wing radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, in a lyrically venomous manner. His unsympathetic words are complemented by hard-hitting instrumentation.

Although Nielsen’s words can be heavy and deep-rooted in his life, it doesn’t weigh down ‘HIIYH’. That’s partly due to Senses Fail’s tried and tested formula of producing scorching hot hooks. ‘I’m Sorry I’m Leaving’ stands out for it’s simple “And I’m sorry that I leave” chorus line, stylistically harking back to their mid-2000s output. The same can be said for the aforementioned title track.

While stylistically reliable, and often punchy, ‘HIIYH’ doesn’t fully stand out from previous Senses Fail records. Where the mid-2010 outings ‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart’ and ‘Renacer’ embraced a heavy, chaotic hardcore sound, ‘HIIYH’ continues the band’s melodic return that began with 2018’s ‘If There Is Light, It Will Find You’. Although it’s favourable and executed well, there is a tendency where hooks blur the line between sounding familiar and recycled. ‘Miles To Go’ is a fitting example of this, proving to be one of the album’s most forgettable moments.

As a narrative, Nielsen is consistent and resolute in providing an insightful and personal record. Ending with ‘Grow Away From Me,’ you’re left with the impression that he’s content with who he is as a father, acknowledging the love for his daughter, serving as the “light that leads him home”. Ultimately, ‘HIIYH’ does benefit from Nielsen’s matured lyrics, bringing grounded cathartic elements amongst their melodic post-hardcore chaos.

If you’ve followed the career of Senses Fail, and stuck with them through their line-up and (slight) stylistic changes, then you’re sure to be on board with what Nielsen and company serve up on ‘Hell Is In Your Head’. For those who have dipped in and out since the days of ‘Let It Enfold You’ and ‘Still Searching’, there’s enough here to keep you interested yet questionably don’t quite hit the same standards. As a standalone record, ‘HIIYH’ can be appreciated for its dependable and honest songwriting, and reliable, if slightly familiar, melodic execution.

SÊAN REID

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