Artist: Close Your Eyes
Album: Line in the Sand
Label: Victory Records
Release Date: 10.29.13
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- Deus Ex Machina
- Burdened by Hope
- Days of Youth
- Line in the Sand
- Frame and Glass
- Sleeping Giant (Feat. Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant)
- Kings of John Payne
- No Borders!
- The End (Feat. Zoli Teglas of Pennywise/ Ignite)
- Higher than My Station
- Trends and Phases
- My Way Home
- Follow the Sun
Anytime a band changes out a key member, a discussion arises in the music community about whether or not the band should keep their name, rebrand, or disband entirely. To be fair, each option has valid reasons. Fans of music everywhere have seen bands change lead singers to detrimental effect. In fact, though there are some cases where a band mostly lives up to their former glory (Becoming the Archetype for example) with the departure of a lead singer, and a very few rise to even great heights (Arguably Haste the Day), the vast majority of the time the spirit of the band changes so much (Audio Adrenaline and the Newsboys, for example) that fans wonder why the remaining members chose to keep waiving the same flag.
Just as every band hopes to achieve, Close Your Eyes has rightfully gained a sizable and passionate following coming off of their incredible Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts. So the news (more than once, in fact, since their last album) that the band would move forward with a new frontman was harder to swallow for some. But, let’s just clear the air right from the start. With Line in the Sand CYE proves that the spirit that made the band stand out with their fans is still sitting at the very core of this “new” experience.
Yes, Sam’s vocals are very different than Shane’s. And, yes, that does effect the sound of the album noticeably if you were unaware of the vocalist change. But, to be perfectly honest, on my first listen through it wasn’t until “Kings of John Payne” that this switch was glaringly apparent. In fact, I would wager that many casual fans won’t really immediately take much notice at all. Sure, purists and the dedicated (both the most loyal and the hardest to please for any band) will mourn Shane’s leaving and declare it detrimental to the album’s production. Such fans will certainly wonder what could have been had Shane been in the picture, just as many bemoaned prior to our exclusive interview with the band. But, for the majority of us, this change will fade from the front of our minds the more we are sucked in, like a hand pulling from the grave, by this simply impressive album that has come together. Sam may be a new leading voice, but the spirit of Close Your Eyes is completely intact.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the album itself. Line in the Sand is a massively engaging album that speaks to the heart of our current generation, dealing with issues others are afraid to bring up in a way that leaves the listener clinging to hope from start to finish. Musically, this is an album that bleeds punk rock from its veins while still keeping its rock and metalcore aromas potently strong. Just knowing that there is an incredibly meta appearance by Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant (on a track called “Sleeping Giant”) will be enough reason for many to check the album out. Perhaps some will have the same reaction to Pennywise/Ignite’s Zoli, as well. For the rest of us, let me simply assure you that Close Your Eyes has brought an experience to the table that, like all great albums, grows on you with each listen and gives you more than enough to keep coming back for more.
In an era where many bands are simply “phoning it in,” CYE prove that they have nothing to prove by blessing the world with a healthy heaping of tracks that have very little filler or fluff. Certainly, tracks like “Burdened by Hope,” “Line in the Sand,” “Sleeping Giant,” “The End,” “Glory,” and “My Way Home” could each easily hold their own as singles, but it is the experience of the album as a whole that truly presents something special. Line in the Sand deeply engages the culture of the youth of today with all of its foibles, battles, and demons and dares to offer a message of militant hope and resounding faith. From the aptly poetic “Burdened by Hope,” weaving through the painful heartache of “Days of Youth” and “The End” and cascading into “Glory” and “My Way Home,” the listener is taken on a journey that stops long enough in the valleys of life to point you to the Son rising on the horizon.
“Deus Ex Machina,” the intro track, begins to set this tone. Beginning with a somber soundscape, Sam bursts in with an almost (gasp) signature Close Your Eyes sound. In fact, all but the more discerning ears could hear this short intro play in a random mix of CYE songs and not notice that there has been a change. The opening line, “I remember when I could hear the sounds of the world” beautifully begins to paint the picture of the deeper messages to come, and the sound (complete with just the right amount of garish screaming) flow perfectly into the next track.
“Burdened by Hope” (which is such a fantastically deep word-picture of a title) serves as both the first full song on the album and also the first real “stand out” track. Once again, the spirit familiar to CYE fans is forefront and readily apparent. And, though the musicianship is right as it needs to be, it is the message of the song that truly begins to draw the listener in. “Even when I’m at the end of my rope… I’m burdened by hope… I need to break these wretched chains.” Throughout, the listener is presented with a disparity with the world and yet an abiding faith and hope that spits in its face. The repeated “you liar, you fake” could also allow the listener to insert their angst against any person/situation they face with grimace (and not the purple guy from McDonalds, just for clarity’s sake) and begin the journey of standing up to this great ailment with uncommon hope.
“Days of Youth” continues to set the stage of a broken generation rising up around us. Similar to the later track “The End,” the focus is on the problems the youth of our culture face in an increasingly difficult path to navigate. The chorus “These days of youth won’t wait around forever” speaks both to that uncommon hope that should serve as an encouragement in the face of pain, and, subtly, a lament over the loss of innocence so prevalent. Musically, the overarching punk-rock influences of the album begin to become more and more apparent. This is also the first track that many listeners will begin to notice Sam’s thick accent… though I wasn’t totally blindsided by it on the first listen clear until “Kings of John Payne” (though it should certainly have hit me in “Frame and Glass”).
The title track, “Line in the Sand” begins with the phrase, “In a world full of hypocrites that speak of tolerance and love, we join the fight and say a word that lives out things they speak of,” and in so doing gives the listener perhaps the first unveiled hint at where this “burden of hope” originates from. One part anthemic and one part part “calling it like it really is,” “Line in the Sand” boldly speaks truth for a generation of youth that are tired of being lied to by those who talk a good game, but don’t back up their big words with right actions (orthopraxis). As before, this uncommon hope shines through… just with clenched fists in the air. Musically, “Line in the Sand” is a potent mix of British punk (the accent, man) and CYE’s signature rock/metalcore mix. The cleans are crisp as they shout “victory or death, you have nothing on me,” and the gutturals are relatively deep and nicely engaging.
“Frame and Glass” leans more into the punk sound than anything, though there are some slight pop and definite rock influences that mix in nicely. In terms of mainstream/radio appeal, this is certainly a track that could soon make its rounds as it is “heavy” enough to be considered edgy, yet radio friendly enough (complete with a nice “whoaaah oooh oooohh oooh” section) that any station excited by bands like FM Static or A Day to Remember will be ready to jump on this one. And, for it’s part, “Frame and Glass” is really a great addition to the album, though fans of the band’s “harder” side may come away dissapointed.
As mentioned at the outset, for a certain group of fans the very fact that there is track called “Sleeping Giant” that features the lead singer of JC-HXC band Sleeping Giant will be immediately enough to draw focused attention to this new album. I, for my part, am one of those people. And “Sleeping Giant” (both the song and Tommy from…) does not disappoint on any level. The song is heavy, it is grungy, and it is one of the most meta (see: the stuff that the show Community does that references back to itself in ways “you’re not supposed to as a show”) songs I have heard in a long time. Tommy’s vocals are exactly what you’d expect them to be and the fact that he is chanting “you’ve awoken a sleeping giant” over and over is enough to bring my love for this track to fanboy type levels.
Apart from that, it’s just a really stinking good song. In terms of the flow of the album (message wise and musically) the track brings back that fist in the air “stand for what’s right and true” defiance presented in “Line in the Sand,” but also gives the first true moment that simply has to be experienced live. Listening to the track I can just picture a venue filled with passionate fans screaming the alternating chant of “Rise up” (between Sonny and Sam on the track). I don’t know yet if CYE and Sleeping Giant will be touring together at any point, but the entire show would be worth the cost of admission just to hear (and join in) this song.
From one of the outright heaviest moments on the album, the band brings it back for a moment again with “Kings of John Payne” before blasting the challenging “No Borders!” “Kings of John Payne” returns to the more pop-punk (Fm Static meets A Day to Remember) sound and pictures a typical high school story being remember as it “passes by too fast” among friends who promise to always be there for each other. As mentioned before, if you somehow missed Sam’s thick accent at this point, you’ll hear it here.
“No Borders!” (complete with exclamation point) doesn’t allow the listener much time to wonder if the album is going to soften up as Sam starts the track off screaming, the drums blast, and the guitars come in fast and heavy. This is another song that would be great to hear live as the lines “your borders just make boundaries” are seemingly written to be played for a responsive crowd. For no great reason, this song is also the one in the past couple weeks I’ve had stuck in my head more than any other.
From the aggression of “No Borders!” rises “The End” featuring the second great guest appearance of the album. Zoli and Sam’s vocals just complement one another in such a natural feeling way. The message of the entire album certainly hinges on this track as it continues what was started in “Burdened by Hope” and “Line in the Sand” but really sets the stage for the amazing hope that is yet to fully come into focus. The sound of this song is perhaps the most punk centered of any song on the album, but that should be expected with Zoli (from Pennywise/Ignite) making an appearance. The song is so punk-rock, in fact, that the very essence of what makes punk tick is bleeding out from the lyric video (embedded below for your one-stop-shopping enjoyment) and its creative use of band logos (how many can you spot?)
This is followed immediately by another one of my underrated favorites on the album, “Higher than My Station.” Of course, I say “underrated” knowing that I am one of the first to actually get to – you know – rate it. Trust me, the irony is not lost in this. Still the subtle word pictures and yet somehow in-your-face lyrics resonated with me each time I gave ear to the track. The 80’s/90’s guitar solo/breakdown towards the end mixed into a track that really resonates that CYE spirit just clicked with me. Still, I foresee this song going sadly under appreciated in the years to come.
“Skeletons” sits alongside “Sleeping Giant” as the other distinctly heavy track on the album. From the immediately brutal gutturals to the more Sleeping Giant (the band) styled cleans, “Skeletons” fights for honors as the heaviest track on the album from its opening refrain. However, in true hardcore fashion, the experience is over as soon as it begins with its total run-time sitting at under two minutes.
“Trends and Phases” moves back into the slightly harder pop punk realm. At this point it would be a good time to address balancing. Because the album moves between influences there is always the risk of putting the wrong song in the wrong place and unbalancing a portion of the record. Or, on the opposite side, alternating so quickly between styles that the listener never really feels that the album ever lands the plane. Luckily, though there is still the risk that some of both happen on the album, Line in the Sand does land on the better side of things and feels fresh due to the mixture. Oh, and “Trends and Phases” isn’t really one of my preferred tracks, which lead perfectly to that little discussion.
After my least favorite track on the album, comes my absolute favorite. “Glory” worried me when I first heard it. The chorus, “Hallelujah, glory to man. How great and holy are we. Hallelujah, humanity. Who harness the sky and harvest the sea,” is immediately troubling… and it is supposed to be. Just as I pointed out John Lennon’s attempted inception with his own “hallelujah chorus” (see my In the Silence of the Mind series about Purity in Music here), Close Your Eyes pulls every card right from his book and turns the tables. “Glory” certainly serves to begin the third act of the album, story wise, and does so in grand fashion. Though musically it is one of the more distinct and self-contained experiences on the album, the message is truly what slaps you in the face as the lyrics begin by reveling in man’s glory, but then shift to the realization that man has no glory in himself at all. The lyrical transition to “No tower built can pierce the sky (an allusion to the tower of babel)… look upon this kingdom of man, how weak and fickle are we, look upon this kingdom man, who poisoned the sky and defiled the sea… Hallelujah, glory to God. How great and holy is He,” is poignant and empowering in the way that only admitting defeat of the self can be. Though it may not be everyone’s favorite track, “Glory” just stirs something deep inside of me.
The remainder of the third act goes to “My Way Home” and “Follow the Sun.” As can be expected from a flow perspective, “My Way Home” follows the more raucous and purposely “square-peg-in-a-round-hole” with a somber near conclusion to the story presented of this teenage broken idealism. Also as expected, though no less impactful, “My Way Home” works as the protagonist’s eucatastrophe. It is the moment of deepest searching that also finally meets with the deepest moment of being found. “I know my way back home resides in You alone.” Also predictably, but no less welcomed, “My Way Home” is impactful and tugs at you in just the right way.
Now, knowing a thing or two about how albums work and their natural progression, “Follow the Sun” could either go out on a complete “barn burner” barrage of fast-paced punk vocals set to rapid drumming and quick picking guitars, or it could take the more somber and reflective path. And, at just one minute and twenty seconds, it certainly takes the latter. “My Way Home” is the payoff moment. “Follow the Sun” (which could/should have been “Son” given the reveal) is the epilogue to the story. It is the (forgive the allusion/not meant to be a pun) ride off into the sunset, very literally. Doing this reinforces the impact of the turn in “Glory” and new hope of “My Way Home” in a meaningful way. It keeps the third act short and sweet, thereby giving it an even greater potency.
Musicianship: Fans of past Close Your Eyes albums will not be disappointed. Though predominately punk and then predominately harder (metalcore, some slight HXC) songs are interspersed, each is handled with the requisite skill required. Sam’s vocals end up being a nice complement to the spirit of the band (which has remained largely the same) and his at times rather thick accent even adds an element (for American fans) that is largely welcomed.
Lyrics/Spiritual Content: The lyrical progression on this album creates a wonderful three-act story. The story itself, set against the appropriately broken innocence of today’s youth, is engaging as a whole and still enough to satisfy from track to track. The “reveal” of the third act is brilliant with “Glory” being the unsung hero of the album and “My Way Home” a more than impactful closing track (“Follow the Sun” is more of an epilogue).
Overall: Close Your Eyes may not be the exact same Close Your Eyes as they were on their last album, but Line in the Sand gives more than enough reason to move on and get past that. The spirit of the band is so much in tact and Sam handles his role so well that many listeners will not even notice the transition immediately. Line in the Sand is simply a fantastic album that, while it may go underrated, deserves a place as one of the best overall packages released this year.
RIYL: Ignite, Rise Against, A Day to Remember, Funeral for a Friend
Want more on Close Your Eyes? Be sure and check out our exclusive interview with the band, and then check out some other great indie-flavored bands, right here on IVM.