Just a few seconds of Renacer (3/26/13), the latest full-length by Ridgewood, NJ’s Senses Fail, is about all it takes to grasp the title, which when translated from Spanish, means “to be reborn.” Without question, the album captures the band at a sonic crossroads, literally redefining themselves, while furiously etching a bold and entirely unexpected new chapter for Senses Fail.
Boasting a significantly heavier and more musically adventurous sound than past releases, Renacer is a reflection of the band in 2013, in terms of both creative interests and current personnel. After more than a decade of existence and multiple lineup changes, singer Buddy Nielsen said the band now has the freedom and desire to embrace change.
“I’ve always wanted the band to move towards being less pop-driven and heavier and more exploratory,” says Nielsen. “We needed to change it up, do something different and move forward.”
It’s a brazen, but not illogical, creative progression for a band that’s largely helped define post-hardcore from the early millennium and onward. Senses Fail formed in 2002 and released their debut EP, From the Depths of Dreams, earning immediate notoriety amid a burgeoning scene, then catapulted into the stratosphere with 2004′s Let It Enfold You—their first full-length—which peaked at #34 on the Billboard Top 200 and sold more than 400,000 to date. Without skipping a beat the band followed Enfold with the dark 2006 masterpiece Still Searching, which debuted at #15 on the Top 200 chart, and the hauntingly powerful Life Is Not A Waiting Room in 2008, hitting #18 on the Top 200. Another full-length, The Fire, was released in 2010 and charted at #32 on the Top 200, while the band also added a greatest hits compilation to their discography—Follow Your Bliss: The Best Of Senses Fail—in 2012. To date, Senses Fail have performed countless worldwide tours, sharing stages with some of the most important artists of the past decade, while the band’s record sales approach 1.2 million-mark.
In recent years the core of the band has shifted, most notably with original member and key songwriter Garrett Zablocki (guitars) departing after The Fire release, to be replaced by Strike Anywhere guitarist Matt Smith, who teams up on Renacer with guitarist Zack Roach. The shifting dynamic created a more collaborative writing process for the band, who also co-wrote with Jeremy Comitas, Nielsen’s collaborator in side project Bayonet. And for perhaps the most sweeping change, Senses Fail tapped producer/Far guitarist Shaun Lopez (Deftones, Crosses, VersaEmerge) and recorded at Lopez’s Airport studio in L.A., instead of using longtime collaborator Brian McTernan, who helmed the last three Senses Fail full-lengths.
“We needed to change everything up. I don’t think we would have written these types of songs if we knew we were going with McTernan. We would have had a different approach,” Nielsen explains. “Dan and I said, ‘Let’s do something different: Let’s get someone different, let’s record it somewhere else, let’s write with some other people, let’s not put any boundaries on what we want to do.’”
The result of this artistic loosening of the reins is inarguably the band’s heaviest, most punishing release to date, and also their most wildly unpredictable. From the opening strains of the pummeling title track that kicks off Renacer, the album pulses with weighty, sludge-splattered guitars and rhythms both primal and guttural, offset at the ideal moment by classic melodic Senses Fail choruses and lush, shoegazey interludes. These brief, fleeting moments of auditory bliss are all the more precious with another sonic beat-down waiting just around the bend.
“We wanted there to be space, because we wanted the record to sound heavy and open,” explains Nielsen. “If you want something to sound heavy, it’s about the space, not necessarily just the chord structures or the screaming.”
The spirit of evolution didn’t stop at the music, either. Known in the past for writing lyrics as a form of self-therapy, this time Nielsen focused on communicating outward with listeners, sharing the keys to personal peace and positivity he’s found and encouraging listeners to do the same. “I wanted the dynamic to be very heavy and very aggressive, but the opposite vibe lyrically. It’s really positive, it’s about coming to terms with yourself and being happy, and also motivating the listener,” says Nielsen. “I’d always been so wrapped up in my own shit. I spent all this time trying to fix myself through lyrics, and this was more about what can I offer to somebody that’s listening to this?”
Nielsen’s positive message and perspective is prevalent throughout Renacer, punctuated at pivotal moments like “Closure/Rebirth,” with the singer chanting “Let it go” nearly as a mantra, or the blistering “The Path,” which is sure to be a truly thought-provoking, yet mosh-able moment. A standout track from inception, “The Path” finds Nielsen furiously screaming, “Look in the basement of your heart / There is a light that just went dark” over fuzzy, rumbling bass lines. More than just a moment of hardcore chest-pounding, such pointed words reflect the spirit of introspection that pervades Renacer.
“I want the person to feel engaged by listening to the record, like they’re being pushed to look at themselves and ask questions I don’t think people are usually asked or are put in a position to ask themselves,” says Nielsen. “That was my intention: to get people to examine their lives and who they are.”
Another track that offers something Senses Fail fans have certainly never heard before from the band is “Mi Amor,” which features a majority of the lyrics sung in Spanish. Born from a spontaneous moment of studio inspiration, for Nielsen the song was a means to stretch out vocally, and also offer a “thank you” to the group’s many Hispanic followers.
“It’s always something we wanted to do—take one of the songs we’ve written and do it in Spanish,” Nielsen explains. “When I was writing it, all the things I wanted to say kind of fit rhythmically and rhyming wise [in Spanish] with what I wanted to do. We just sort of ran with it, and I think it came out great”
Some of those Spanish-speaking fans will surely get a chance to enjoy “Mi Amor” live in the very near future, as Senses Fail plan a full worldwide run in support of Renacer, through 2013 and beyond. Nielsen hinted that the band may also perform some special shows in 2014 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Let It Enfold You, but otherwise the group is determined to bring this brave new incarnation of Senses Fail to fans everywhere. According to Nielsen, expect the unexpected.
“I’d like people to start thinking about Senses Fail as, ‘I wonder what they’re going to do next,’ rather than, ‘I think I know what the record will be like,’” says Nielsen. “I definitely want to start the second half of the band as, ‘What can we expect from the next record?’ I don’t think anybody thinks for a minute that this record was going to sound like this.”