REVIEW: Close Your Eyes – Empty Hands And Heavy Hearts

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Artist: Close Your Eyes
Album: Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts
Genre: Hardcore/progressive/pop punk
Label: Victory Records

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this album is the bomb. Sprawling music and cutting vocal sprees combine to create a powerful and edgy record full of emotional breakdowns and gorgeous melodies. In keeping with their background, there’s also a potent message embedded in the lyrics, but even if you aren’t of a similar persuasion there’s much to love here.

“Hope Slips Away (The World is ours to Change)” is a fiery but measured opener. It’s heavy but considered, and led by a bombastic set of vocals that really do stand out. Shane Raymond’s voice is unique, a brash complement to the music but not so cutting as to be off-putting. The drums give the song a different edge and make it more urgent and compelling, but all the power is in the singing. The instruments act as a kind of conscience and a constant reminder with hints at the troubling and perverse. The final chorus in particular is a very rousing call to arms. Raymond seems to find added gravitas, even frenzy, in “Empty Hands.” He sets off the soaring hooks as the music swells and bursts memorably, the percussion speeding everything up rapidly. The song has an air of panic and disharmony with a solid emotional undertone. There are occasional hints at growling vocals which threaten to derail proceedings however – the harshness of the growls would be completely at odds with the imperiled lustre of the music. The song makes an emphatic point and leaves you reeling in its wake, revamping for “Erie.” This one keeps the urgent drumming but brings the vocals down a notch. They’re more insular and pleading here, building up into group harmonies on occasion. There’s a slightly more humanistic element to the song, something real and tangible that makes a vivid impact.

“Valley” gets snaps for the delicious bass line that leads the second verse and also comes complete with a ludicrously catchy group chant midway through. It’s a very exhilarating track with a larger-than-life sound. “Paper Thin” goes from sounding insistent and furious to distilled; the vocals come down as the music dilutes itself before unveiling a beautiful interplay between two singing styles. Backed up by seamless guitar work (including a gritty bass line) and emotive refrains, this one has a clear melancholic slant with a very ethereal final verse. “Wormwood” is a triumph, with an almost cinematic surge of music at the end lending it a huge sound. “Keep the Lights On” shakes off a misfiring opening to develop into a rather touching rabble. It’s very fast-paced but with a heavy gloss of conviction and feeling, the vocals delivered earnestly as ever. The pleading verse near the end should probably be more affecting than it is, but that aside, it’s a fine song.

“Wolves” is more temperate in rhythm, but far more intensive and resolute in mood. It doesn’t quite come good on its initial promise but on further reflection it does seem to be a grower. “Scars” comes over all hardcore again. It seems to have set the deeper, more pained strains that informed many of the preceding songs aside in favour of a robust, though still sentimental, mood. It’s faster and fierier with less emphasis on feeling and a strong beat to offset the hints at something debilitating in the vocals. The breakdown is quite angry and demanding but the layered vocals are beautiful and elevate it somewhat. They allow the song to end on a note of heart and sincerity, less of an onslaught and more of an impassioned plea.

“Heavy Hearts” is a perfect conclusion as it takes everything that has impressed thus far – immediacy paved with insight, speed and power mashed up with harmonies and feeling – and constructs a stunning denouement to a brilliant record. There’s something about that gravelly howl that just won’t leave you in a hurry. Then, just when you think it’s all over, a choir materializes out of nowhere and offers a haunting and inspiring ending. It sings a fragile and tender verse, perfectly in line with the spiritualism of the album, spearheaded by a luminous soprano. It’s a bit left-field and you never see it coming but it creates a really lovely conclusion, soothing the album into rest.

And if all of the above hasn’t convinced you, just go and give Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts a spin. Close Your Eyes have a unique insight and a genuine edge that sets them apart from their peers, and they deserve your utmost attention.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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