Fuck The Safety Fire. Whew, glad I got that out of my system; it’s been a while. Looking back at the old days of the ‘djent’ heyday with any positive nostalgia is a bit problematic for me – even though the whole scene was fresh and uniquely engaging early on, the way it turned stale and sour only a few years in still makes me cringe whenever I think about it. Grind The Ocean, however, has not been impacted by any of that at all. If anything, The Safety Fire‘s début continues to grow on me as the years go by, it being one of the few records from that era I still like to revisit from time to time. I know I’m not the only one at EIN who feels that way. Need proof? Ask Inter, Rodney, Pet, and Billie about it – you can find your thoughts on this untainted gem below.
My favourite memory of The Safety Fire was when they supported Between The Buried and Me and Periphery at The Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton, UK. Whilst I had seen them multiple times before, this memory always makes me laugh the hardest. As we made our way to the venue, we caught on social media that the band were struggling to get to the show to play their set in time. Yet by the time we got there, the band’s van had given up the will to live and left all but one member stuck in London – quite a distance away.
That one member – Derya ‘Dez’ Nagle – soldiered on alone for the band’s full set, without anything but a backing track for the rest of the band. And it was still a great set! That drive to play great music at whatever cost to appearance is something that really encapsulated the attitude of tech/prog-metal bands from the UK at the turn of the decade.
Their first album Grind The Ocean caught the whole scene’s attention, and being UK golden boys, they were arguably one of the most fawned upon bands after SikTh and Monuments. The signature guitars squeals found at the start of “Huge Hammers” and the epic/raspy vocals defined the sound of the band. This and the ever-changing landscape of their sound, which bounced from mathcore-driven prog to ambient guitar sections really set The Safety Fire apart from a crowded scene.
The crisp production, which holds up brilliantly ten years later, is down to Dez again. With quite a wide dynamic range, the instruments collide together chaotically, creating an exciting atmosphere that feels like it could change any second. Check out the middle section of “DMP(FDP)” to see what I mean. By not overtuning their guitars too much, having only the right amount of tech, you want to bang your neck, but not see any walls of death cracking off near you.
Obvious comparisons to Protest The Hero and The Arusha Accord can be made, but after the many years that have passed since Grind The Ocean, it is safe to say The Safety Fire are now the band to compare new artists to. Whilst I personally thought the bands new effort with Good Tiger was lacklustre, it’s exciting to hear The Safety Fire’s influence being used by new bands on the scene. Long live, and Fuck The Safety Fire.
I remember listening to The Safety Fire for the very first time when they were announced as the opening act for Between The Buried And Me in 2012. My first listen of “Huge Hammers” got me even more excited for them, maybe even more than for BTBAM. The record has this raw power that lives in the aggressive riffing. The breaks are so well-placed and hard-hitting, while McWeeney’s voice absolutely nails every note; the short jazz section on “Huge Hammers” also amazed me all the way through; the guitar work is simply outstanding, and opened up totally fresh spheres for modern prog metal back in the days.
“DMB (FDP)” is another favourite song of mine. The unconventional time signatures flow so well, and the tremolo picking used alongside the bended notes creates this unique The Safety Fire style that simply blew me away. I always tried to learn this song on guitar, but it’s so damn hard to play the chorus riff! Also, this little circus-y part in “DMB (FDP)” really inspired meas a musician, and was pure joy to play on drums. Again, The Safety Fire really knew how to build in their heavy breaks, which, together with the harsh vocals, sounded incredibly huge.
Another song I want to highlight is “Circassian Beauties”, which I started liking after seeing The Safety Fire live. The guitar melody kicks in out of thin air, and it’s truly hard to follow the rhythmic metre of the song. The way how The Safety Fire incorporated the synthesizers into this song felt so great, and I love how groovy it becomes as soon as the bass and drums come in.
In general, these guys knew how to play with momentum, building their songs up to a grand finale where everything culminates in a very catchy way, even if the preceding music was unconventional as fuck. Apart from the music, I want to highlight the album cover, too, which is simply amazing. It somehow fits the mood of the record perfectly.
I don’t know what else to say about this. I also liked Mouth Of Swords, and I think Good Tiger have some good songs, too. But none of them will ever have the same impact that Grind The Ocean had, and I’m still sad that there was no farewell show. I never considered flying to a show, but this one would have been it. I’m waiting, guys – I hope that sometimes there will be one last show, maybe one last album, maybe a reunion? I don’t know. All that’s left to say is: pretty please? And yeah, Fuck The Safety Fire!
PS: Fuck The Safety Fire again.
Grind the Ocean is hands down one of the best debuts of a band in the last decade. I still get hype every single time I hear the intro to “Huge Hammers”. Such an immediately catchy and bouncy riff is always a treat. One this good that stays in your head for years and brings back tons of nearly decade-old memories is a few and far between treat. What a delight The Safety Fire were. The only negative thing I could ever say about this band is that they only gave us two albums and then left us with Good Tiger which is…just good.
If you’ve never listened to this band but have any kind of an interest in modern prog, I implore you to listen to just “Huge Hammers”. In six-and-a-half minutes, The Safety Fire weave together what could almost be three different songs, bringing it all together with a focused and cohesive approach that is nothing short of spectacular in execution. I could write about “Huge Hammers” and how much I love it this whole piece, but that wouldn’t be quite as interesting. It would also be a disservice to the rest of this album, which is pretty much all equally impressive.
Grind The Ocean is like a force of nature. It is seemingly unstoppable as it pounds along in a forward direction, destroying everything in its path with an insane energy. That vitality is something that emanates from every ounce of this album, and if you were fortunate enough to ever see them live you’ll know that it was palpable. The mesh of heavier and chunkier guitar parts, like the breakdown in “Floods of Colour”, and the more melodic and faster chops they unleash more regularly give their songs a great flow. Add in the always catchy and tasteful clean interludes and the wild proggy journeys they occasionally take you on, and you have an album that is truly an experience to hear.
Once again, I can’t really say enough about my love for Grind The Ocean. From hearing “Huge Hammers” when it first debuted in late 2011, I was all in on this sound. This album was huge on shaping my tastes at a time when I was just leaving high school and branching out both into the world and with my music tastes. Stuff like this is exactly what helped me break the shackles of being a deathcore kid and really broadening my horizons. It’s a talented group of musicians firing on all cylinders, playing some of the most interestingly crafted music of any genre at its time. I would give a lot to have The Safety Fire back, but since that is unlikely, at least they were kind enough to leave us with such a repeatable classic.
Sometimes, a bunch of people come together and the immediately strike for something unique, not on purpose, but naturally. Dynamics create a unique vibe, minds melt together. For a short period of time, The Safety Fire created exactly that. Fuck The Safety Fire.
When Grind The Ocean hit back in 2012, djent and a new wave of prog were the hot shit. Quickly, observers of the scene detected a lack of originality, like with most trends. Bands copying each other, creating superficial doppelgängers of already existing sounds. But not this band. Yeah, The Safety Fire read the zeitgeist correctly, and jumped into the ring with a ‘now or never’ mentality. I remember that I very much liked the cover, and the album title sounded very intriguing as well. So I got the album, put it on. And “Huge Hammers started”.
The first extraordinary trademark which is established right from the start is the one of a kind guitar work by Derya ‘Dez’ Nagle and Joaquin Ardiles. Cascading melodies, signature tremolo picking explosions, and the right amount of heaviness are easy to stand out, but it’s the elegant pacing of ideas and compositional drive that serve as the substance for The Safety Fire‘s sonic vision. A lot of ‘prog’ band from that time cultivated a primarily heavy sound, leaning generally into metal and providing screamed vocals. To spice things up, they threw in a couple of ‘clean parts’ here and there. More often than not, those parts felt tucked in, giving away the feeling that they are nothing more than everyone’s justification to call themselves prog, without much care or thought regarding how to gracefully ‘own’ such sections.
The Safety Fire always avoided that impression by performing with such confidence, character, and identity, led by the charismatic, yet sometimes challenging vocals of frontman Sean McWeeney, who crowned the powerful tunes with anthemic and catchy singing. Thoughtful and powerful lyrics backed up the vibe of a band that knows what they are doing, merging a lot of talent and chemistry with layers and layers of care and love for art and their respective craft. There weren’t many really outstanding albums that came out of the djent movement, but if you wanna remember one of them, it should be the masterpiece that is Grind The Ocean.
What are your thoughts on/experiences with Grind The Ocean? Are you a fan of The Safety Fire, and if so, what’s your favorite album of theirs? Do you have any records you’d like to recommend for inclusion in A Scene In Retrospect? Leave it all in the comments if you feel like sharing!