The concept of rebirth is as old as humanity. It’s the backbone of many religions and the perfect metaphor for new energy, new direction, and new starts. It really should be a bit more cliche by now, and maybe it is in the broader sense. All I know is that, with Renacer, Senses Fail takes this idea and applies it in a way that is almost completely unexpected. The band’s heaviest material to date, coupled with a near-unprecedented level of positivity in Buddy Nielsen’s lyrics, makes for an album that is refreshing, raw, and an impressive way to kick off the next ten years of Senses Fail.
Title track “Renacer” opens the album almost unassumingly, with low, rumbling guitars and rolling drums waiting for Nielsen’s scream to enter the atmosphere, as punishing as ever. If the phrase “follow your bliss” was set to define the first part of the band’s career, Renacer‘s opening lyrics “the cave you’re afraid to enter holds the treasures you seek” provide a nice tie-in, since both lines are Joseph Campbell quotes. Keeping that notion of pursuing what you desire alive, the refrain screaming “reborn” indicates a stronger drive to live by those words. Though only two minutes long, “Renacer” mixes up tempos and textures a number of times, making for an exceedingly exciting listen. In many ways, this might be the best opening track the band has ever written, as it sets the tone for the record perfectly. As the band kicks into “Holy Mountain,” all I can think of is how intense those mosh pits are going to be when they play it live. The chorus is catchy without being hooky, and it maintains the weight they’ve established by creating space within the song. The repeating “live, love, learn” is sure to be a fan-favorite lyric, and the song as a whole is really well-written.
While lead single “Mi Amor” is certainly heavy, it signaled changes within the band perhaps more from its language decision than its sonic ones, since the upbeat chorus bears as close a resemblance to their past work as anything to be found on Renacer. It’s a nice transition between the two sides of the band, but fades a bit in comparison to the rest of the record, even with such a great chorus. “Closure/Rebirth” brings back the sort of dark atmosphere the first two songs established, but reiterates the theme of the album through positive lyricism. The fadeout into static at the end of the song is one of my favorite things on the record, as it leads perfectly into the stark brutality of “The Path,” with its fuzzy bass and more open instrumentation. Nielsen’s falsetto at the end of the line “and it takes more strength to move on,” juxtaposed with the power of his scream, provides a fantastic contrast, and the closing line “hearts burn on” bears a finality while still proclaiming continuance. The song is full of new sonic experimentation for the band, and it’s nearly completely successful.
“Canine” is a hardcore song at heart, with driving drums, dissonance in the guitars, and lyrics like “fuck what you know, fuck what you believe, I am the architect of my destiny.” The refrain gets increasingly grittier as the song progresses, but at its cleanest it serves as a nice counterpoint for the brutality of the rest of the track. From my first listen through my twentieth, “Glass” has always stuck out as one of Renacer‘s strongest. Though it’s nowhere near as brutal as any of the other songs, it maintains its heaviness throughout and spaces everything out perfectly. The lyrics balance the hopelessness of setting sail “under waters of glass” with the powerful notion that “we found each other in this life, we’ll find each other in death.” Usually, I have a few standouts I pick out on a record, but this is the one for this album, with the strength of the whole serving to show why that designation says so much about this particular song. It’s that great.
Even though it follows the best song on the record, “Ancient Tombs” manages to hold its own, with some of the album’s best guitar parts and plenty of strong lines throughout. “Frost Flower,” like “Glass,” features more clean vocals than most of the rest of the record, but it plays out almost like an interlude, atmospheric and short. That’s not to say that it doesn’t stand well on its own, only that it seems custom-made to prepare for “Snake Bite,” which finds Nielsen matching screaming with singing in a lower register to provide some of the catchiest parts on the record. The song’s bridge is a standout, with the drums taking over the instrumental side of things and a perfect flow in the vocals tying everything together perfectly.
“Courage Of The Knife” is the final straightforwardly heavy song on the record, with overlapping screamed lines and a chorus that proclaims “your god is dead.” However, it doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as most of the other songs on the record do, and it falls a little flat in the face of album closer “Between The Mountains And The Sea,” opens with an honest expression of insecurity and introspection that comes as a powerful reminder that this is still Senses Fail, even if the lineup has changed a bit and the guys are more mature. Full of great guitar parts and well-structured, the song is an uplifting ending to this heavy record, even if the lyrics go in the face of some found earlier on. It changes things up both instrumentally and lyrically, and the change from the brutal but positive to this closing is a powerful one.
While there were some indication that Senses Fail might take this direction in last year’s Follow Your Bliss EP, there was no hint that they would take it this far. This band has always had a heavy edge, but it previously had been balanced by more buoyant elements, either by way of highly melodic guitar parts, backing vocals, or an overall greater reliance upon singing in general. Renacer sheds nearly all of this, making for a record that feels much heavier than anything the group has put out before. This is a maturely heavy album, a maturely heavy band, and proof that the best groups can do something new and unexpected and do so successfully. If this is just the new start of this band, I can’t wait to see where it takes them in the future. My ears are ready and waiting.