Review Summary: Don't rest on this album, you'll regret it.
A common gripe I’ve observed with listeners of Christian rock and metal is that the bands tend to hold back somehow; occasionally neglecting the rawness or force of their sound in order to perpetuate their message with greater urgency, or suppressing their faith in favor of musicality, worried that the candor of their lyrics may be off-putting to the atheistic or less involved crowd. When bands make these decisions, it becomes clear what their intentions are; certainly a band like Thrice (while in part because not all members of the band are Christian) is less concerned with proclaiming their love for the Lord than they are with making incredible music, and a band who meanders down the path towards relaying a particular message seems to care less about virtuosity and instrumentation than praise. It is rare for some then, to find a band like Hands, who on their latest album Give Me Rest
fearlessly complect the two components in a striking balance without disregarding one or the other. That isn’t to say, however, that Give Me Rest
concerns itself with evangelistic lyrics, for those of you whose faith may not be overbearing, or existent at all; the lyrical content found on the album is more of an existential affair, the narrator contemplating his own purpose and existence through his faith.
Much like the album’s lyrics, Shane Ochsner’s vocal performance is honest and stirring, dynamic from the distant and impetuous screams that open the album over an agitated drumbeat in “I Will” to the defeated yearning to “tell [my] wife I love her” before begging for rest in the seven minute soft rock finale. As Ochsner’s vocals draw near in “I Will”, the guitar kicks in and almost instantly the band’s various influences are revealed. The song, as good an indicator of the album as any, unearths the powerful dichotomy between the soft and melodic layered guitar lines that create post-rock soundscapes and the roaring and dense chords endemic to metal, and the juxtaposition of these elements, one known all too well and perfected by post-metal giants Isis. In fact, the Isis influence is perhaps the most pervasive of the album, with tracks like “Water” almost reviving the band in their Panopticon
-esque melodies, only to segue quickly into the musical equivalent of being trampled to death. In the same vein, the boys of Hands have an extremely translucent propensity for marrying their aggressive and honest brand of metalcore with calmer ambient sections a la Misery Signals. With Ochsner’s versatile vocal catalogue, consisting of guttural roars, incisive screams atop an impressive range, and of course pretty cleans for the softer segments at the album’s helm, Give Me Rest
’s greatest asset is its strong, genuine, and vocals-for-every-occasion nature that allows the rest of the band to congregate in order to effectively incorporate their many influences and ideas in a cohesive manner.
Give Me Rest
is not entirely vocal driven though, though the vocals are indeed a focal point of the album. Instead, it’s the instrumental section that drives the album and provides the perfect canvas for Ochsner’s chromatic voice. The drums, while generally simple, soft, and uninspired, are on the whole nothing to write home about, but at times they push the track, bringing the band from whichever realms they occupy to a central and intense moment, ready to burst at the seams with emotion and almost reckless aggression, as exemplified in one of the album’s highlights “The Helix”, in which Ochsner attacks his faith over a light chug, “[questioning] everything [God has] done” while Josh Silbernagel pounds sporadically on his drumkit until the vocals drop out, leaving only the now calm drums with the tickling guitar. The respite of an interlude lasts but a moment, before Ochsner leads the band into a ferocious and unrelenting aural onslaught that, although not as crushing as the heaviest Isis moments, is arguably the most uncompromising of the record. The guitarwork is noteworthy, ranging from the soft spacey melody of “Northern Lights” to the wall-of-sound in your face brutality of the crushing chords commencing “Cube”. At a moment’s notice, Ochsner’s lilt of a guitar line can crescendo into a manic climax, or otherwise abruptly enter a state of thunderous euphoria, and vice versa. The clear Isis influence, while prominent, is never overbearing and is more than welcome in an album that excels because of it.
A wholly lustrous album, rife with moving and expressive vocal performances at every turn and relaxing yet inexorable guitarwork across the board, Hands’ latest offering has few faults. The sparse second half of the album falls short of the bar set by the first few tracks, as Hands’ sound is not quite dynamic enough to avoid the pitfall of having songs lumped together. The band goes all in before the flop, and by the time the album is underway, we’ve seen everything about Hands that we need to know. Truth be told, there’s very little in the latter half of the album that a listener won’t already be familiar with. The songs are still of great quality, and Ochsner’s vocals are still as affecting and desperate as ever, but there isn’t a whole lot of variation. Another complaint, albeit minor, is that Hands isn’t very good unless they are doing the post-metal thing; album closer “Give Me Rest” is a flighty seven minutes of crooning over a soft and mediocre melody that, because of its lack of variety is a few minutes too long. Ultimately, however, when Hands are on point, they make incredible music, and thankfully, the band is on point all too often on Give Me Rest
, crafting focused music that allows the album to transcend the music, to create a world for the listener to visit as they listen. The smart and radiant musicianship, coupled with unabashed and poignant vocal performances serve to mitigate the faults the album has, and Hands assert themselves as one of the better bands 2011 has seen thus far, with one of the better albums the year will likely see.