Hearts & Hands - Hearts & Hands EP
Record Label: Artery Recordings/Razor & Tie
Release Date: October 30, 2012
I'd really hate to be Alex Koehler. He's such a great vocalist, but mediocrity seems to follow him around like a plague. When I first heard that he would be making music under a name other than Chelsea Grin, I was thrilled. I hate Chelsea Grin with a passion, but I love Koehler's vocals, so I figured this would be my way to enjoy the latter without having to suffer through the mindless chugging that comes with the former. What I discovered upon a few listens of his new project Hearts & Hands is that he's still making generic music devoid of any substance, just in a different genre.
As you'll see from the score on the left, there's one redeeming quality to this EP and that is the vocal teamwork of Alex Koehler and Garrett Garfield. If you're a fan of Koehler or Chelsea Grin, you'll definitely recognize the screaming vocals here. Koehler is just as raw and aggressive as ever, even with this lighter side project. The guitars may be tuned higher and the drums may not be hammering out blast beats, but the screams are still powerful enough to suit both deathcore and this new style he decided to take on. Then there are the cleans, which are as strong as they come as far as metalcore and post-hardcore releases. They can be shaky at times, but as far as the writing of the melodies, it's spot on and it provides a hook that carries this album and makes it worth listening to. And when these two variant vocal styles come together, the product is really impressive (see "Choices"). There is a perfect balance between the two vocalists, and paired with the skillful execution, it gives the EP it's biggest source of lasting value.
Unfortunately for Hearts & Hands, though, the vocals just aren't enough to bring this record to anyone's attention. If your old band is really generic, you're gonna have to pull out all the stops with your next release to prove that your new band isn't just as weak as everything else you've ever done. Koehler, with his new group of musicians, simply fails to do this. Sure, it's a completely different sound, but it isn't going to turn any heads. The main issue with this EP is how forgettable the instrumentation is. The drums do absolutely nothing that stands out throughout the whole thing and the guitars keep recycling the same parts. There are simple power chords to match the clean vocal parts, basic breakdowns when the vocals start getting heavy, and the same lead riff can be heard in every song, often more than once. Not once is there a moment where any aspect of this band (aside from maybe the vocals) will be impressive or surprising enough to make you stop and think "hey, that was really cool," and I feel every song needs to have at least one moment like that. Essentially, they simply fall victim to the exact same problems that every other hardcore band you've never heard of have faced, so that's all Hearts & Hands are going to end up amounting to if they keep putting out songs like these.
All of this is just really frustrating because of how good the melodies are in this EP. I really can't stress that enough. Take a song like the opener "Revenge," for instance. That chorus is as powerful and addicting as you could expect, but surrounded by a generally weak and predictable song structure of breakdowns and steady chords, it becomes just another line that is going to be forgotten because no one has the patience to sit through the filler to get to the good parts. It's really a shame, because I feel that a lot of potential and talent here (specifically from Garfield) is going to waste and will probably never be built up apart from Hearts & Hands.
I really can't believe I'm saying this, but Koehler should stick to Chelsea Grin. At least he'll be able to enjoy some reasonable success there.