Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hands - Give Me Rest (2011)

When I listen to hardcore, I am usually listening for one of two reasons.  One, I am listening for the primal energy and heart that comes from more old-school hardcore, where it's early punk rock made angrier and heavier because they just needed it to be more in-your-face due to whatever it was they were trying to express.  Two, I am listening for the simplistic heaviness and "oomph" of modern hardcore with its down-tuned guitar sound, overly bassy tones, intense group shouts, and powerful presentation.  And while there are certainly crossovers between early hardcore and what is considered hardcore in today's world, the aesthetics are still often separate between the two.  Hardcore bands of today are often striving to be faster, heavier, and more "brutal" than their hardcore brethren of yore, sometimes neglecting one of the elements that makes hardcore so vital, so intense: unbridled passion.

Now, hardcore isn't the only form of music teeming the passion.  No, there is plenty of passion to go around in nearly all forms of music.  The difference, though, is that sometimes hardcore music can be almost entirely carried by the passion injected in and through it.  Not that hardcore musicians are limited musicians, because many of them create catchy, interesting riffs and songs that stay with you, not just content to simply pummel you with loud audio.  But there are hardcore bands whose musical aesthetic is faceless and nameless, and their acclaim is solely based upon their chosen "platform" or lyrical bent, and the copious amounts of passion they put forth in their work.

Hands 3rd full-length release doesn't suffer from this disease of indistinguishable (or passionless) hardcore, for a myriad of reasons.  First and foremost, while the band started off as a reasonably melodic, passion-filled hardcore band, their earliest material was devoid of any defined personality or lasting impact.  Indeed, "The Everlasting EP", while being a good listen from beginning to end, is hardly memorable.  Its songs are too "samey" and often go on far longer than they need to.  By all accounts, though I don't yet own it myself, "The Sounds of Earth" was a major step up for the band, with a more muscular sounds that retained the melodicism of the EP and brought more atmosphere along with it, as well as more succinct songs.  "Creator" was another step in the right direction, offering better riffs and a more honest, gut-level take on the proto-progressive hardcore the band was attempting to play on their debut.  With "Give Me Rest", the band has thrown away the "hardcore handbook" entirely, creating an altogether unique and engaging listening experience.  While traces of the hardcore-infused sludge/metal are still present, they are tempered with loads of atmosphere and feeling.

Immediately noticeable is the fact that the music presented is so spare.  This is not to be taken as a bad thing following how "Creator" made ample use of guitar riffing and melodic playing.  Rather, it is a seemingly deliberate attempt at making more out of less, as if the simple melodies and instrumental passages were meticulously constructed.  No drum hit or cymbal crash, no bass string pluck or guitar strum is wasted in any way.  Each note is purposeful, doing its job in constructing the bare minimum necessary to propel the song.  That's not to say there aren't a few more complex riffs, because there are.  But those riffs seem to be specifically placed every 2-3 songs to build momentum, only to allow the atmosphere of the surrounding tracks to be the dominant theme.  All instrumental performances here reflect that minimalist ethos, and the album is stronger for it overall.  Of particular note is the drum work by Josh Silbernagel - his rhythms and playing here may seem overly simplistic at first, but it's deceptively so - it makes sense in context of the material and makes for the perfect accompaniment to the bass and guitar, as well as the vocals.

Lyrically, the album is very personal, but not so much that it's difficult to glean meaning or purpose from the songs.  This album appears to reflect a spiritual journey that seemingly starts during a crisis of faith, a point at which the narrator is both wrestling with his own faith and questioning the moral center of the world around him.  The story shifts into a mode of recognizing one's own "filthy rags", then repentance for said indiscretions, then into a somewhat militant view of the world (typical with young Christians judging the world through what they perceive as the eyes of their Creator), and then a more softened perspective at the end, much more at peace and harmony with their faith and their environment.  It's a fantastic journey that is at times tense, other times quite subtle and serene.  Vocalist Shane Ochsner is in fine form here, with both emotive and accurate clean singing, as well as a combination of more hardcore vocal sounds, from a higher pitched scream to a lower toned, more "throaty" growl, reminiscent of the heavier material from "Creator".  His performance on this album is impeccable.

All in all, this is my contender for hardcore album of the year, even though truth be told, it's probably more post-hardcore in aesthetic and execution.  Still, when I have the CD in constant rotation in my van for 2 weeks straight, including a day trip 2.5 hours away from home where I ended up listening to the CD 5 or 6 times in a row on the way home, it's fair to say that once you "get" what this band is serving up, you'll be addicted to this album like I have the last few weeks.  The one caveat I would have is, purchasing the album on CD or digitally is probably the best choice.  I am a vinyl enthusiast and will definitely be purchasing the vinyl version when I get a chance, because the songs here flow so well together and so seamlessly at times, listening to the album from start to finish, uninterrupted is the primo way to experience this opus.  Highly recommended to all fans of hardcore - this is what hardcore music can be when you think outside the box and allow creativity to rule versus merely "following the script".


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