Before you ask, no, this isn't Aaron Gillespie. He didn't release an album for The Almost under a different name. It's actually Tooth & Nail Records' newest signee, Hearts Like Lions, a three-piece indie rock band from Long Beach, California. The similarities are hard to ignore though. The pacing, the song structure, and even lead vocalist Stephen Ramos' voice all bring Gillespie's work to mind. But that's meant to be more of a compliment than anything else. For a band that has only been around for three years, and with many different member lineups, the re-release of their debut EP, These Hands, is surprisingly mature and extremely polished. It sounds more like a second or third album.
The EP starts out with "Wake Up," which serves as not only a perfect introduction to the band and their sound, but also as a call to the masses. It's very reflective, yet mellow; subtle, yet powerful. And lyrically, it leaves no question as to where the band's loyalties lie. It's all about decisions and the effect they have on our lives. Ramos, with the sincerity and concern of a friend, and the authority of a great revival leader, calls for the listener to "Wake up from this deadly sleep. Wake up from this deadly sleep." The deadly sleep is sin, and living our life apart from Christ. Unlike most of our society today, he isn't satisfied with himself, or the accomplishments of man. He doesn't tell the listener that everything we do is right. Instead, he calls the listener out and points them toward truth; "I'm sick and tired of these people talking about where they've been. I'm sick and tired of these people living like they don't want anything to do with Him." What a statement. It's raw, it's real, and that can be said for the rest of the album as well.
While the pace may change, and the instruments vary, the message stays strong throughout. It's especially evident on the title track, "These Hands," as Ramos laments, "I've done so much destruction. So much destruction." With the type of humility so often lacking these days, he admits that he doesn't deserve God's love, and that there's nothing he can do to change that. Instead, he cries out to God that, "These hands are dirty. Won't you make them clean?" Honesty like that makes this album so easy to relate to. The members of Hearts Like Lions aren't rock stars, they're people. They've just been given a gift, and they want to share it with the world.
Hearts Like Lions may be a relatively new band, but the bar has been set high. Very high, in fact. These Hands is almost painfully short, but if it's any indication, Ramos and company are certainly up to the challenge. In a music scene with cookie cutter worship bands where originality dies on the production floor, Hearts Like Lions is a bright spot of hope. Sure, you may hear similarities to bands like The Almost, or even From Indian Lakes, but don't let that stop you from enjoying one of the most interesting albums of the year.- Review date: 12/13/14, written by John "Flip" Choquette of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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