Review Summary: Victory has indeed accomplished to sign a promising band, and Close Your Eyes can no longer be labeled as A Day to Remember's baby brother.
One thing is for sure, Close Your Eyes are passionate about their music and their message… but could it be, that they had too strong debut? Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts is in no way a bad album. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable. It only has a problem keeping up with its older brother, We Will Overcome.
For those of you who don’t know, Close Your Eyes is a Christian pop punk/hardcore band from Abilene, Texas signed to Victory Records. They released their debut album “We Will Overcome” in 2010, and people soon realized that Victory had finally managed to sign a new and promising band. Their debut single “Song for the Broken” reached critical acclaim worldwide and it’s video has over 2 million views on YouTube.
A year and a half has passed, and Close Your Eyes are back with their second studio album, “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts”. I didn’t think I’d hear from these guys so fast again and labeled the album rushed before even listening. Truth be told, musically the album beats the crap out of the debut. They have evolved as song-writers and can barely be labeled as a pop punk-band anymore. “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts” is a heavy and aggressive album
I can’t help but feeling that something is missing. What’s missing is the depth of “We Will Overcome”. To be fair, Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts sounds poorly produced at times. What bugs me the most with this album are the vocals. Sure, they sound cool, and at times more aggressive than on their debut. But compared to the vocal production of “We Will Overcome” it’s kind of shallow. There is not a single song (vocal wise) on this album that comes close to what Close Your Eyes accomplished with songs like “Song for the Broken”. Then again, this edgy sound makes it seem a whole lot rawer, and nothing is hidden behind layers of vocals, bringing us the true sound of vocalist Shane Raymond. On “We Will Overcome” bassist Sonny Vega had a whole lot of vocal duties as harsh vocalist, this have now been replaced with “hardcore shouts” and occasional screaming by Shane. I personally thought the formula worked much better with them both and not only Shane, again something that gave “We Will Overcome” its depth in the vocal department. The reason for the removal of the harsh vocals isn’t known, but I speculate it has something to do that the band wants to be looked at more seriously and not as A Day to Remember, part 2.
As mentioned earlier, they are a Christian band, and I don’t think a band such as Close Your Eyes has the intention of being labeled as the apprentice of a band that worldwide is looked upon as a joke for. No, Close Your Eyes has a clear and powerful message with each song. This is more than we can say about other “so called” Christian bands like Skillet where I can’t seem to find the Christian message in songs about staying up all night and watching TV.
But don’t get me wrong, Shane Raymond is not a bad vocalist, and this is probably his best performance yet. His blistering shouts and screams along with his melodic voice bring certain seriousness to the album. This can be heard in songs like “Paper Thin” and “Injustice”. This was percent on their debut too, but not in such a huge scale. Take “Arms Raided” from their debut, songs like this are too pop punk-ish for their own good and makes the rest of the album seem a bit redundant.
That’s not to say that “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts” has it’s so called “softer” moments. Take their first single, “Valleys” for example. Witch pretty much can be looked upon as a sequel to their debut single “Song for the Broken”. It has its heavy moments, but is based on melodic and radio friendly material: A great song to sing-along to on their live shows.
Even though at first “We Will Overcome” might sound heavier, it isn’t. That’s the entire productions fault. “We Will Overcome” duplicates the A Day to Remember-formula to the book, which probably was a demand by Victory seeing how A Day to Remember is one of their most successful artists and Close Your Eyes were about to unleash their debut. It’s nice to see how the band has more space to do their own thing with this album,too bad about the production though.. With no guidelines to follow, the band has made much more interesting album with songs like “Erie” and “Keep the Lights On”.
The band has evolved as musicians, but they don’t bring something new to the table. We’ve heard this before. All in all, “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts” is a good album with the only thing dragging it down is the repetitive drum patterns, the low volume of the guitars and its "paper thin" production. It’s a solid release, and they are going in the right direction. Victory has indeed accomplished to sign a promising band, and Close Your Eyes can no longer be labeled as A Day to Remember's baby brother.. They have created their own sound, and I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Close Your Eyes can manage.
Recommended tracks: Paper Thin, Valleys & Erie.