Review Summary: Close Your Eyes mature and become artists
For Close Your Eyes, writing a sophomore album had to be a tricky business. The genre of pop-punk blended with melodic hardcore and metalcore was well wearing itself thin by the time their debut “We Will Overcome” was released. Bands with similar sounds such as Set Your Goals were writing songs which saw a sacrifice of the fun-factor, offering little more than hollow hardcore-tinged pop-punk. For a debut showing as much promise as Close Your Eyes’, a sophomore release had to keep their strong elements while tightening up the loose ends. With “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts”, the band do just that.
One of the strengths of Close Your Eyes’ previous album was a tight rhythm section accompanied by well-incorporated melodies. The only problem with this on their debut was how repetitive that formula became. Here, it has been nearly perfected. On lead single “Valleys”, one of the album’s best offerings, we are treated to strong guitars which are produced just right to provide that punch from straight up hardcore while being polished enough to not drown out the rest of the band. Right along with the rhythm, there are soaring melodies in the choruses that help craft memorable songs. Another improvement in song structure is the level of creativity. The songs on their debut were good, but many tended to blend together due to similar-sounding riffs. The riffs on this album sound like time was spent crafting them, whether they be chord progressions (“Scars”) or slowed down and intricate (“Erie”). It really helps the songs maintain identity.
Many melodic hardcore / pop-punk bands incorporate breakdowns into their songs, be it for better or worse. Some do it well and profoundly, others sound as if they were put into songs simply for the hell of it. Close Your Eyes was kind of in between the two on their debut, but on “Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts” the breakdowns are used sparingly, and when the band chooses to, well done. For mosh-inducing songs, look no further than “Injustice”, with its rapid pace and lightening-fast shredding and drumming. What helps give Close Your Eyes their own sound is their usage of breakdowns reminiscent of original hardcore punk bands such as Minor Threat and Agnostic Front, none of that modern metalcore rhythm syncopation. Slowed-down drum patterns that aren’t accompanied by chugging or driven by double-bass, the breakdowns are hard-hitting with very present bass and are used the way they should be.
Another strength Close Your Eyes had previously was frontman Shane Raymond. On their debut Raymond was pushed to the front, giving the music a punch with his shouted vocals. That got old, however, and here he is given a more definitive role in working with the rest of the band. Raymond uses more singing and melody in crafting the choruses and saves the hardcore shouting for verses and bridges. It works so much better. He is a phenomenal vocalist and the passion from him is just short of breath-taking. Gang chants are used frequently, those less than before. It’s a shame that bassist Sonny Vega is given less of a role in doing unclean growling in the heaviest sections, though he has very impressive moments in songs such as “Wormwood”. It’s just disappointing that what could be a valuable asset isn’t utilized as much as it should be.
Along with the musicianship and vocal work, the pacing of the album needs to be touched. It is clear by listening to this album that work was put into planning it. The fast and heavy songs are not directly after one another, and the more mid-tempo songs are not either. They are placed in an order that keeps the listener interested and looking forward to what comes next. Too many times bands similar to Close Your Eyes ignore pacing and craft an album of good songs, but they are not placed strategically and lose their power. It’ll be interesting to see where Close Your Eyes go from here, with their message of positivity and passionate melodic hardcore, they can appeal to a wide audience. “The sun is sinking, but I won’t go down with it”, Raymond cries on ‘Keep The Lights On”, let’s hope not.