It is no secret that Victory Records has gone downhill in the past few years. Being responsible for some of the worst releases of this year (Design The Skyline and The Bunny, The Bear to name a couple), Victory has some explaining to do. Luckily, the few good bands on the infamous label are putting out records this year as well, one of which is Close Your Eyes‘ sophomore release, titled Empty Hands & Heavy Hearts. This record shows the heavier punk side of Close Your Eyes, and the band lets the listener know this fact early and often.
They start the record off with one solid goal in mind: getting from point A to point B as swiftly and brutally as possible. Openers “Hope Slips Away (The World Is Our To Change)” and “Empty Hands” come at the listener with a vengeance as they sit neatly on the fence between punk and hardcore. Vocalist Shane Raymond’s harsh shouts take the reigns of these tracks and lead the listener into a glorious punk sunset.
As the album progresses, rather than upping the punk, Close Your Eyes digresses in terms of heaviness. “Paper Thin” features an upbeat, groovy verse and solid riffing. “Wormwood” and “Keep the Lights On” follow suit as these tracks display the band’s melodic half valiantly. While the former opens with Raymond’s rough bark, the guitars and drums of “Wormwood” are held back, allowing the musicianship to captivate as Andrew Rodriguez’s guitar serenades the listener. On the other hand, “Keep the Lights On” starts off with the melody that ends “Wormwood” and saves the best for the end in which Raymond belts “Please keep the lights on/I am trying to make it home/The sun is sinking but I won’t go down with it.” Likewise, “Carry You” and “Wolves” maintain a fast rhythm section that backs Raymond’s charismatic clean vocals.
Where this album lacks is with Rodriguez and Brett Callaway’s insistence on being so flat and boring with the riffs. Most of the time, these capable guitarists fall back on harmonizing power chords and palm mute chugging. This occurrence is a shame, as it brings down the enjoyment of Raymond’s excellent vocal delivery and shadows the uplifting message of the album.
One band can only do so much with their sound. Even though Empty Hands & Heavy Hearts begins heavily, the album finds its sound halfway through, balancing blistering punk with lovely melody. Understandably, fans of bands from Touche Amore to Four Year Strong should enjoy this record for what it is, and even though it is not going to be on many album of the year lists, at least it is not another Victory stink fest.