Listening to a new Senses Fail album is a lot like reconnecting with an old friend—although there’s a comforting, indefinable familiarity within all of the New Jersey-based post-hardcore quintet’s records, each new creation is a fleeting snapshot of the lives of its makers, indelibly capturing the things that meant the most during your mutual time apart. The band’s third full-length release, Life …Is Not A Waiting Room, is no exception. Having the unenviable task of following 2006’s crushing Still Searching, the album showcases the face-melting musicianship and soul-baring lyricism that define Senses Fail. Once again produced by helmsman Brian McTernan (Thrice, Circa Survive) and recorded in Baltimore, MD, at his Salad Days studio, Life boasts a towering sound akin to a roundhouse kick to the skull. “This is the most fun we’ve ever had as a band,” says singer James “Buddy” Nielsen. “I think we were feeling a lot less pressure this time around, but you’ve always got to do your best.” The New Jersey-based group formed six years ago and released their debut EP, From the Depths of Dreams, in 2002. 2004’s Let It Enfold You—their first full-length—was followed by Still Searching, which debuted at 15 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. To date, Senses Fail have performed multiple worldwide tours and their catalog sales have reached over 850,000, yet the band continue to evolve. Although in many ways Life picks up seamlessly where Searching left off, the new album has very distinct, unique qualities, most notably its lyrical content. While Searching wrestled with issues regarding religion and depression, Life is centered squarely on a crumbling relationship, and the desire to see meaningful change. “A lot of this record is written about the recent break up I had with a long-time girlfriend, the first person I have ever been in love with, and someone I spent a lot of time and shared my transition from kid to adult,” explains Nielsen. “The other elements of the record consist of regrets and how they can leave a burning hole in your soul; how the past is something you can’t change….There are also bright moments where I find myself coming to terms with those very facts, and in knowing the problem you can then be proactive and change.” Life also marks the addition of new bassist Jason Black (formerly of Hot Water Music), who replaces the departed Mike Glita. Meanwhile, guitarists Garrett Zablocki and Heath Saraceno (formerly of Midtown) have grown into one of the most scorching six-string tandems around; Life features more of the nimble harmonies showcased on Searching, but this time the duo took it one step further, with some truly shred-a-riffic leads, such as those heard on “Lungs Like Gallows” and “Garden State.” Another rocker, “Wolves At The Door,” was so intense that it even garnered a coveted spot within the soundtrack for the best-selling Madden NFL ’09 video game. Kicking off with the rich, moody “Fireworks At Dawn,” Life roars and pummels its way through the album’s 12 tracks without the slightest pause for filler, delivering an absolute haymaker just four tracks in with “Family Tradition,” which features the band’s signature blend of dark and melodic. Nielsen’s words are as insightful as they are meaningful. “I find myself at times doing things to live up to other peoples’ expectations, or cutting myself down because I assume that will make me look more humble to the world,” says Nielsen. “So this song is one part a reaction to that, and also about following the footsteps of a family member you don’t really know, but who has had a huge influence on you.” Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moments of all come via the two-part song cycle of “Yellow Angels” and “Four Years,” which were inspired by a terminally ill fan named Marcel, who befriended Nielsen at an SF show in Dallas, TX. Nielsen remained in contact with the 18-year-old, who was stricken with cancer of the soft tissue of his face, and endured many painful surgeries and treatments in order to attempt to fend off tumors that were growing in vital areas such as his eyes, nose and throat. When Marcel’s mother notified Nielsen of her son’s worsening condition, the singer flew to Texas, where he spent a great deal of time with this incredibly courageous young man, during the final days of his tragically short life. “It was one of the most intense and stirring times in my life. The sheer pain this 18-year-old boy was in was mind blowing, yet his optimistic outlook and sense of humor was steadfast,” Nielsen recalls. “This kid changed my life and although he is no longer with us, he lives on everyday in the pictures I took with him, to remind myself that life is never as bad as you think it is. So ‘Yellow Angels’ is my reaction to meeting Marcel and how I needed to live in the moment and love myself and life. ‘Four Years,’ on the other hand, is about being influenced by such a life-changing [experience] and having to make new decisions about my relationship and what it really was.” The album’s title is a succinct, encapsulating statement as to its thematic thrust. Life Is Not A Waiting Room is just as much revelation as it is reflection; the sum total of every ounce of pain, fear, hope and joy that the record exudes. “I felt I had been living as if I was waiting for something to happen, but I know that is the wrong way to live—it just doesn’t promote any sort of happiness,” Nielsen concludes. “The title sums up the direction I want to go in, and what I want to get away from, and it’s a cry to everyone else to stop living like I have.” Just like the rest of us, Nielsen’s struggle is far from over. But one thing is certain: SF have once again delivered their message with both passion and fury. All one has to do is listen with their ears and heart open—just as an old friend would.