Close Your Eyes may never gain a massive following, but those adventurous enough to give them a listen may understand why this post-hardcore Christian band would struggle to reach stardom. Although they bring their own unique style to the genre, their one defining attribute that sets them apart is also what will likely drive many casual fans away. Refined vocals aren’t a standard for the genre by any means, but Shane Raymond’s shouted, coarse clean vocals can be slightly off-putting to those who don’t have the stomach for the hardcore influence. The rough vocal style calls Four Year Strong to mind, although Close Your Eyes’ lyrical focus is much more inclined to being spiritually driven. Indeed, one of the band’s most notable qualities is the strength of songwriting; Raymond may not win many over with his rugged voice, but he does deliver genuine and heartfelt words about the power of faith and the inadequacies of mankind and sin. These themes are seen throughout Empty Hands And Heavy Hearts and form an interesting combination when mixed with heavy and polished breakdowns. Close Your Eyes’ sophomore albums won’t revolutionize the scene, but its intelligent lyrics and unique vocal style are certainly appealing enough to warrant any post-hardcore fan’s attention.
“Erie” showcases many of the common traits seen throughout Empty Hands And Heavy Hearts. Brett Callaway and Andrew Rodriguez provide simple but engaging guitar riffs, Sonny Vega sets the tone with his bass in the backdrop, Tim Friesen pounds away on the drums and Raymond lays his heart and vocal chords on the line as he urgently proclaims “I can see my breath / I feel the chills up and down my spine / I’m trying to fan the flames / This fire has already died / My hands can’t stop shaking, I’m so ashamed of what I’ve done / I’m begging you to guide my way / And bring me in out of the cold.”
While “Erie” gives a glimpse of the norm, “Valleys” reveals Close Your Eyes’ talent for creating affecting and relatable songs while still being able to squeeze in a memorable breakdown or two. Vega’s bass line and Friesen’s uptempo drumming set the pace, but Raymond dominates the proceedings with some of his best clean (and unclean) vocals on the album. This is one of the band’s lighter tracks, but still brings enough aggression and energy to make it a quality single.
There are plenty of great songs on Empty Hands And Heavy Hearts, but “Wormwood” stands out and manages to not feel stale in the midst of so much repetition. Raymond lays it all on the line vocally and lyrically, dramatically declaring “I am bearing witness to my multitude of sins” as things begin to crumble around him. Between its sense of urgency and the fact that it contains several of the heaviest and greatest breakdowns, “Wormwood” deserves recognition as not only the best song on the album, but also as the most epic in the band’s entire song catalogue, serving as a terrific representation of everything Close Your Eyes stands for.
A lack of variety certainly brings Empty Hands And Heavy Hearts down a few notches, and the departure of Raymond leaves this band’s future in doubt. Although his unpolished vocals likely held Close Your Eyes back from gaining a bigger following, they also defined the group and made them unique. Raymond’s revealing professions about the struggle to live a virtuous life, his confessions of sins and admittance of flaws and his yearning for more all provide the soul of Close Your Eyes’ music, which means his absence could be detrimental. But strictly in terms of the album itself, this sophomore followup to We Will Overcome is superior in its strong lyrical content, smoother breakdowns and grander scope. It’s unfortunate that Close Your Eyes’ defining attribute is also probably their biggest downfall, as Raymond’s shouted vocals make the band memorable for those who can stomach them. However, fans of Four Year Strong, Close To Home, Like Moths To Flames, A Day To Remember, Sum 41, My Ticket Home and Our Last Night should not miss this impressive followup despite the fact that Close Your Eyes’ future is unclear.
Final Score: 7.2/10
Rank: 1st (two total albums)
- Hope Slips Away (The World Is Ours To Change)
- Empty Hands
- Paper Thin
- Keep The Lights On
- Carry You
- Heavy Hands