Having a kid changes you. Ask most new parents and they’ll say that when you bring a child into the world it instils in you a previously unimagined perspective on existence. Some even go so far as to say that it makes life make sense, that it gives it a purpose. For Buddy Nielsen, the sole remaining founding member of Senses Fail, it’s also made him think about his own mortality more than ever before. That started during his wife’s pregnancy, but it’s persisted ever since. As such, he’s found himself staring directly into the black abyss of his mortality a lot recently. It’s that heightened sense of his own impending doom that’s at the center of Hell Is In Your Head, the band’s eighth studio album.
“My wife had a pretty serious childbirth,” he says. “I don’t want to say she almost died but it was pretty scary for a minute. And the relationship you have to have with your child is just a constant letting go of yourself in ways that you didn’t necessarily perceive you needed to. I’ve had to start to come to terms with my own death because my daughter, who’s now four, keeps asking about it. So this felt like an opportunity to maybe address grief and how we process being – how do you have a kid, how do you be alive, how do you continue to live a meaningful life while also knowing that you’re going to die?”
It’s those questions and more that Hell Is In Your Head explores and attempts to answer across its 11 dark, brooding songs. It does so in two very distinct halves. Five of the first six tracks – “The Burial Of The Dead”, “A Game Of Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death By Water” and “What The Thunder Said” – take their titles from the five parts of TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. They aren’t based on the 1922 poem per se, but they’re set in its world, and use that setting as a foundation to explore those topics in a more philosophical, abstract and timeless sense.
Nielsen, in fact, says he views these six songs “more like a play”. That’s why the portentous, gloomy, atmospheric opener has “references to exiting and entering the wings of a stage.”
“What’s the answer to the inevitable trap of the fact that you’re going to die?” asks Nielsen. “This record attempts to go to the dark place of ‘What is it that we’re so afraid of death?’ We’re afraid of death because of grief. Are we truly afraid of death because of death? Through my own therapy, I’ve learned you don’t even really have a clear understanding of death because it’s unknowable. And since you literally can’t die and come back, I tried to place the record in a much darker fictional place to help talk about those unanswerable questions.”