The mere fact that I’m even sitting here writing about the new Senses Fail album at all is still hard for me to grasp. I remember being shown this band almost a decade ago by my cousin, and falling in love with their combination of post-hardcore fury and pop punk hookiness. Since then, I’ve grown to think of them in the same way I think about every emo/pop punk/whatever band of the 00s: great nostalgic value, but not very stimulating on an artistic level. I was honestly surprised to hear this band still existed. I finally decided to suck it up and listen to Pull The Thorns From Your Heart expecting to hear a sad attempt of outdated musicians to cope with the changing times. What I heard was something truly astounding. Pull The Thorns From Your Heart is the sound of Senses Fail thriving in the current musical landscape through sheer skill and musicality.
It’s difficult to explain what Pull The Thorns From Your Heart is actually trying to accomplish. The post-hardcore/emo stuff that Senses Fail is known for is punctuated by forays into dream pop, and that’s not when it gives way to a savage hardcore and even extreme metal. This makes for an eclectic listen. I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear power violence in “Dying Words” and a tip of the hat to Deafheaven in “We Are All Returning Home” only to be soothed by “Carry The Weight” and “My Fear of an Unlived Life,” but Senses Fail makes it work. No concern is given to whether something will go over well, or whether audiences will understand it. The mentality shown here seems to be that if you do something well enough, the unexpected twists and turns can only win people’s approval. There are some tracks that stick to one feel, but others incorporate many. The title track makes use of the latter approach to an incredible effect. It begins as a straight ahead hardcore song, lulls the listener into a false sense of security with an uplifting post-rock passage, and then drops into a bone crushing breakdown that would leave the likes of Xibalba green with envy. These transitions were a bit jarring at first listen, and I can only credit the incredible musicality of Senses Fail for the fact I was won over.
While the qualitative consistency of Pull The Thorns From Your Heart in the face of its striking diversity is impressive on its own, there’s a lot more to it than that. Nothing on this album sounds disingenuous. Blast beats sound just as natural as slow grooves, just as the feral growling is with melodic singing. It’s apparent that Senses Fail is not content to be dabbling in stylistic weirdness, as is the fact that they want to do everything they set out to do better than everyone else. When they play hardcore, they play great hardcore. When they play dream-pop, they play great dream-pop. They’re there to take you on an emotional journey, not dazzle you with their eclecticness. This is what has me listening to Pull The Thorns From Your Heart over and over. Each unique approach that is taken adds to the larger whole. Seeing how they all pour into each other is truly what makes Senses Fail shine.
The overall message of this album differs from what one might expect considering the music. “Love is not a song sung by the weak” might seem like a strange line in the ripping hardcore song “The Three Marks of Existence,” but Senses Fail makes it work. This pervading sense of hope is what makes Pull The Thorns From Your Heart unique. They’re not afraid of being cheesy or melodramatic, which is a huge breath of fresh air in a scene that has started to take itself way too seriously. Why not scream about the strength it takes to love recklessly instead of violent hatred? Why not sing about transcending one’s spotted past instead of reveling in the cruelty of this world? Senses Fail’s ability to inject positivity into all of the diverse atmospheres on Pull The Thorns From Your Heart makes it a light in a famously dark scene.
To say that Senses Fail has outdone themselves would be an understatement. The flawless execution, brazenly powerful musicality, and enduringly resonant lyrics result in an engrossing experience that is sure to be cherished by old school fans and newcomers alike. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Pull The Thorns From Your Heart will be one of the best things to happen in music this year, and that it will be remembered as a triumph.
By: Maxwell Heilman