Screamo is my generation’s hair metal. We look back at this era of girl pants and barre chord breakdowns the way our parents look back at acid washed jeans and monster ballads. Where Poison were the poster boys for the era of glam that erupted in the 90s, there are few bands that embody mid-aughts screamo more than Senses Fail. The band was as integral to the scene as Myspace and Purevolume. From their drop-D tunings and octave chord melodies to the vocals that interchanged heartbreaking wails with aggressive screams, Senses Fail popularized a style that catered to angsty, alienated teens.
As 2016 has continued a tradition of nostalgia established over the past few years where reunions of bands that were popular a decade ago are not only ubiquitous, but expected, it’s easy to forget that Senses Fail never actually broke up. My generation grew up on Senses Fail and, like pogs and Nickelodeon before them, we grew out of them all the same. Here’s the thing though, just because we stopped listening to them didn’t mean Senses Fail ceased to exist. In fact, they grew not only musically but as people as well. Last remaining original member, Buddy Nielsen faced several internal demons and came out an even better person. As many of the people only expecting a trip down memory lane found out Saturday night at Paper Tiger, the band has completely evolved.
There are two things I’ve found most interesting about the current state of Senses Fail. The first is that little by little they have adopted more hardcore elements into their sound. While they still sound like Senses Fail (and probably will always as long as Nielsen is involved) the band has substituted many of the motifs that established their brand of screamo with rolling bass lines and hXc bro vocals (or brocals, if you will). It’s clear that this is the direction the band has been leading to over the last half-decade or so.
Secondly, it’s interesting that despite this, the band has no reservations about playing their old stuff. In fact, it appears that Nielsen embraces it even. Many of the bands their era have a tendency to are either so far removed from their old stuff that they avoid playing those songs altogether or are just completely banking on nostalgia that they phone in when performing those songs. It’s a breath of fresh air that Nielsen tries to go all out and play with the same conviction he does on songs he wrote when he was in his early 20s as the songs he’s been writing in his third decade of being alive.
As somebody who stopped really paying attention to the band after their first LP Let It Enfold You came out, I was not only surprised at how much I enjoyed the more recent material, but also how much I still like the songs I liked in high school. Songs that I used to consider guilty pleasures because of their association of a time when people shopped at Hot Topic non-ironically. The experience was simultaneously nostalgic and humbling as I was displaced into my teenage self, free from the notion that this was the music that fueled my teenage angst. I was able to just enjoy it for what it is: music that I enjoy.
Seeing Senses Fail in 2016 made me finally understand why my parents’ generation was seeing Poison in the late 90s and early aughts. We can laugh about how this music reminds us of our former selves all we want, but it still hits a nerve the way it did when we first heard it and what’s better than that? They say that music trends cycle every two decades and its easy to make correlations between hair metal and screamo, but I like to think that as silly as the latter era was it will never produce something as ridiculous as Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. Then again, we are talking about a scene that made it trendy for dudes to wear girl pants, so maybe that’s just wishful thinking.