(This review also appears on Burnside Writers Collective)
Few bands in the hardcore scene have impacted me as much as BoySetsFire. Emotive vocals, socially aware and poignant lyrics, and punishing breakdowns have all been hallmarks of why the band is iconic in the hardcore, punk, and emo world. For a band as iconic as BSF, the greatest compliment a longtime fan could pay a band releasing their first album in over seven years is that the album is a classic BoySetsFire album from the first riff to the final note.
Admittedly, while a big fan of BSF’s output from their early years through After the Eulogy, I had lost track of Nathan Gray and company for some years. I was under the impression they had broken up or been on hiatus, but I saw they were playing some festivals and was intrigued. Soon, their new album While a Nation Sleeps came across my desk and my intrigue turned to excitement. A new BoySetsFire album? Say it ain’t so!
The opening track “Until Nothing Remains” dug its claws into me right away. Over a powerful hard track with a vintage feel, Nathan growls and sings and growls again while guitars soar and rip, drums pound, and the bass thumps. It didn’t take long for this old school fan to know I was in for something I had been yearning for, my type of hardcore album.
A track-by-track breakdown would reveal BoySetsFire tearing into the establishment in ways that make Rage Against the Machine look like Miley Cyrus, but that’s to be expected for anyone who knows what BSF is about. But… then… suddenly…
“In this moment I’ve found my way
In your embrace all sorrow starts to fade
Distant echoes well rehearsed
Here is solace and rebirth
You are all I know of heaven
and all I need from this earth”
Wait… did Nathan just sing about God? After tearing up religious hypocrisy on the track right before this? Could… wait…
“No longer haunted by the ghosts I leave behind
Replaced by the grace in your eyes
For a truth no longer felt or a shadow of myself
You have delivered me from fire and guided me through hell”
I mean… it could be about a friend or lover who he feels saved him… it could… but…
“In your arms I am absolved
From the fear, the anger, the scars”
Is this about Jesus? Could it be?
“You make me wanna believe, you make me wanna believe
Believe in something I’ve never known
Beyond the darkness in me
You make me wanna believe, you make me wanna believe”
At this very moment, I still don’t know if Nathan is considering God’s love as something real. I don’t know what he believes. But I do know that every single time I listen to this song, I feel moved. “You make me wanna believe in you,” feels like the most heartfelt cry to God I’ve heard in a long time.
The album picks up from that track, laying into the Catholic Church, capitalism, and the bullshit in our society and world… but that track sticks. It hits hard in a way that nothing from BSF ever has for me before.
All this darkness and evil that BSF has railed against for years, have they perhaps found an answer? I’m not sure, but I do know that this album is vintage BoySetsFire in tone and feel, so either way… you should go listen to it.