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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Tracking my changing relationship with "Hearts Burst Into Fire"

It's a fitting song to soundtrack my return home... but that's a pretty new way for me to approach it.

I'm consistently fascinated by how (impending) changes of scenery affect my musical tastes.

As I prepare to return home for next week's spring break, I've noticed that I've been listening to a lot more 2000s music than I'd been before, all across the genre continuum. I think this comes from the nostalgia that coming home fosters within me — it makes me think back to various memories of my youth, and music is often intertwined with that.

I remember discovering today's Senior Year Soundtrack selection after hearing another song by the same band in a video game. My brother and I played a decent amount of EA Sports' NHL 06 (the last NHL title made for the GameCube), and one of the songs in its soundtrack was "4 Words (To Choke Upon)," by Welsh metal band Bullet for My Valentine. While that song wasn't my favorite in the game, it got me intrigued enough to search up more of Bullet's music. I gravitated toward "Hearst Burst Into Fire," a song with driving riffs and lyrics that capture the emotional web of returning home.

Back when I first came to appreciate "Hearts Burst Into Fire," it was largely because of the guitar work by frontman Matt Tuck and lead guitarist Michael Paget. Tuck's opening solo traverses a range emotions — its slower opening strikes me as being on the sadder side, while its reflective, while its tap-heavy second half ramps up the energy and primes the song for its main chordal riff. The verse riff is propulsive in its syncopation, with upbeat attacks on the third and fourth beats of every measure, and every eighth bar consisting entirely of such attacks. The rhythmic contrast the guitar and some of Tuck's vocal lines ("I've been gone for far too long" and the like) present against Michael "Moose" Thomas' more straight-ahead beat give the verses a drive to them that I particularly enjoy.

As I got older and became more knowledgeable about music, I realized the song is also a great exhibit of the relationship between relative keys. The intro begins in the key of E-flat Major, then begins to emphasize C minor more before returning to the major key; the verse is in the key of E-flat Major, with C minor as the secondary chord; and the other sections (the pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge) are in C minor. These changes don't sound jarring, or perhaps register at all with some listeners, because C minor is the relative minor of E-flat Major — the two keys share all the same notes, but a different note is treated as the key center. I certainly hear a difference in the sections' character as a result of this relative key change; the verse is more tender even with the metal instrumentation, while the pre-chorus and chorus have extra bite to them, and the bridge has an inherent moodiness to its opening half.

Since becoming accustomed to the other musical qualities, I've begun to focus on Tuck's lyrics in more recent listens. These lyrics resonate with me in ways they never would have in those earlier years now that I'm a college student, spending so much time away from home — not far away, mind you, but away nevertheless. The lyrics aren't all that complex, but they have some emotional weight in Tuck asking how much the listener remembers him, and if he wonders if he's messed things up again. I have a bad habit of letting my guard down in terms of civility when I come home at first, and it always leads me to question whether I should have returned at all, even after things get better (which they tend to do pretty quickly.)

The one that still puzzles me about "Hearts Burst Into Fire" is the title itself. What does it mean, if anything, for a singular narrator (indicated by the word "my") to have multiple hearts? Is there an emotional heart that's different from the physical one? Does it represent different parts of his inner self that collide at these key moments? I doubt I'll ever know one way or the other... though I do admit that it sounds better to sing "hearts burst" than "heart bursts," because of the unwieldy nature of triple consonants, so I wonder if it's as simple as that. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I enjoy reflecting on songs like I did here because it demonstrates how my understanding of music, whether a single track or a larger concept, can and does evolve over time. "Hearts Burst Into Fire" is always a song that's meant something to me, but the way that meaning has changed is the real story, and it's something I hope can resonate with you as you think of how you've thought of your favorite songs over time.


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