I must admit, I was caught by surprise when Facedown Records alumnus Hands announced their reunion and an upcoming performance at the label’s annual showcase, Facedown Fest. This spring’s 20th anniversary installment of the festival will feature throwback sets from past Facedown artists. And, much like the recent trend of veteran indie bands performing full-album concerts dedicated to a singular, milestone release, or the somehow dead-serious late-‘90s/early-2000s emo revival, nostalgia is big business these days. While Facedown is still no doubt a trusted purveyor of heavy, spiritual music, the label’s trip down memory lane fits right alongside our currently nostalgia-soaked music scene.
(I’m a sucker for this brand of sentimentality as much as anyone. Quite often, however, I have to remind myself to not keep one foot planted so firmly in the past. Everyone has regrets, everyone has past glories, and everyone has to keep moving. Living too much in your memories is a futile concern; devoting excessive energy to things that have already happened is like living two lives, one prior and one present-day.)
I will devote energy to Hands. They have always been one of my favorite Facedown bands, especially after the 2011 release Give Me Rest, frontman Shane Ochsner’s crowning achievement under the phalangeal handle. Once the band disbanded, he took Hands’ energy and made it even more effective in his current project, Everything in Slow Motion. With New Heaven / New Earth, however, I’m just not sure Ochsner’s increasing momentum needed a concomitant break in the timeline.
I especially do not mean to unfairly admonish Ochsner and his Hands bandmates, Josh Sibernagel (also of Glower), Chris Schwartz and Ian Johnson. From all reports, the band had an exciting, spirit-invigorating time getting back together last fall. In September 2016, the four camped out in North Dakota and wrote the two songs on this EP. A few weeks later, they recorded them in Nashville with producer J. Hall (who also worked on EISM’s Laid Low EP).
The music is, essentially, what could be expected from a latter-day Hands release. More mature and with more singing, less screaming, and plenty of atmospheric passages, plus a few tokens of their trademark (and supremely satisfying) boneheaded guitar riffing. While Give Me Rest was a lyrical caterwaul begging for grace and reprieve, the poetic content of “New Heaven” and “New Earth” (apart from the biblical titles) is slightly more subdued, its message a bite more clouded than on old-school Hands records.
Undoubtedly, Hands’ two-song return is a welcome reunion. But like a lot of rekindled friendships, there is some awkwardness in the initial exchange. Is this the same person I knew back then? Can we move forward without being mired in the past? The ultimate answer lies with each individual listener and their own history with the band.