Virtue N’ Vices – Edge Of Existence – Album Review
“We are a rock band out of Hartford, CT, born from the ashes of two area bands, Paragon Theorem and Vision Within.” #ahem #canigetalittleclarificationonthatpleaseandthankyou
Man. That’s HEAVY! “Born from the ashes” certainly implies these other bands are…gone? I do see a few shout-outs to Virtue N’ Vices on the Paragon Theorem page on Facebook…but the main website is still up there…at least for now? Hopefully they’re not over with…it felt like those guys were just finding their thing…don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to have something new to listen to, it just always makes it tougher when it comes at the expense of something else, ya feel me? I see no visible concrete evidence so far that Paragon Theorem has officially declared it over on any of their pages…I do see that this is indeed the case for Vision Within though. Onwards and upwards I suppose, as they say…the real bottom line here is, fans of both of those bands will be stoked to have something new to listen to I’m sure…we’ll always have the *sniff memories…the music *sniff *sniff lives on…we’ve still got the records.
Artists & bands are on a fluid timeline these days anyway…don’t be surprised if they come back wearin’ the 4-5s like Jordan, as Jay would say. For now – we’re digging into the present & moving along into this new record by what’s essentially a super-group of sorts with the amassed experience between the players in the band. From what I can tell, looks like they’ve got three of the five dudes from Paragon Theorem with Steve (Guitar), Eric (Bass), and Josh (Drums) – and they’re rockin’ in behind Dan Vieu formally of Vision Within on the mic up front. Personally I’m all about this kind of stuff in just about all its forms…hell, I’m one of the only people I know of that fully dug on the Talk Show record when the DeLeo boys stepped out on Scott Weiland for the first time back in the day. Music SHOULD work like this fundamentally, should it not? While there might always be questions about what the dominant project is, or whether or not the ones from the past even exist anymore – more to listen to by people you already dig listening to, should always be a really damn good thing. Plus you gotta factor in that so many of these artists & bands that go routes like this & form separate groups, are quite often the results of seeing each other play live, or developing a genuine chemistry or some kind of significant relationship where you know that making that move to start a new band is actually going to be a really good thing.
Unless you’re Talk Show…then it’s a one & done situation…I mean, I told ya I was basically alone there.
But for real – bands like these tend to be built upon recognized talents & strengths whereby it just makes logical sense that they’d get together to explore what they’re potentially capable of – and rightly they should. So cheers to Virtue N’ Vices and to the future ahead – they’ve got their debut album Edge Of Existence online, available & released now – let’s check this motherfuckin’ record out, shall we?
Whispering their way into “Stand Still,” the haunting vibes of the opening cut creep in just as much as the crunchy riffs goin’ on in the background do. Puttin’ the power on display, “Stand Still” is THICK – really balanced sound and played on a unified front where they’re in complete lockstep with each other as they slink & slide their way through this first track. Almost like a hybrid of one of the best double-bills I ever got to see up close, when Cold was touring their 13 Ways To Bleed Onstage record with Finger Eleven opening up, supporting The Greyest Of Blue Skies…like, fuck. What a kickass time for music – I don’t wanna go off on a tangent here, but they both owned their shit so hard that night it was like seeing both bands playing outside of themselves in an out of body experience, beyond what either would have normally been capable of on any other given night. “Stand Still” reminded me of the feeling of witnessing that raw power, that hunger, that drive, that passion to make music, turn the amplifiers right the fuck up to the rafters and make some serious NOISE…so hell yeah, I suppose you’d say that’s a good thing for Virtue N’ Vices to conjure that memory up for sure in my first impression as I listened. A menacing start that hints at the mayhem to come, “Stand Still” slithers with slickness and hits equally hard with gripping intensity – when Virtue N’ Vices go big, it’s impossible not to notice. Rock solid start – as many times as I toured through this record, “Stand Still” remained one of my favorites in the lineup; it might be the impact of that first impression, perhaps – but it also might just be a really kickass cut too.
Love the groove from Eric at the core of “Crawler” – and in general, this was another extremely strong track in the lineup that puts the fierce punch of this band’s raw power right into your speakers. Here we’ve got Virtue N’ Vices heading closer towards something like Quicksand…a bit more ferocious, yes – but that defined style of cutting chops in the instrumentation that are crystal clear and just as savage. The main hooks work pretty well in their favor here…I’ll go into all this later on in the review, but in terms of memorable stuff on this record here on an individual track basis, “Crawler” arguably has the most stand-out potential in that regard. I dig how Dan sings this track – I like the stuttered shots of words coming at us at full strength through the opening verse…I dig how he expands through the serene and the brutalizing, transitioning through the wide degree of style & sound he uses with precision and seemingly endless power. All-in-all, “Crawler” was a great choice to have right after “Stand Still” – it gets the juice flowin’ in the right direction and gets us all amped-up for the ride to follow. This band plays their nuts off when it comes time to record, make no mistake – you can hear when that red light comes on in the studio, Virtue N’ Vices are not fucking around – they’re ready to rock, and they bring it.
Smart moves like what you’ll hear at the outset of “Whisper” make a huge difference in the dynamics of sound as we listen…you’ll hear how far off the vocals are at the very start, only to roar into the front as the track kicks itself into gear. Tight band! I ain’t gonna lie to ya, the first two tracks make more of an impact on me personally, but listening to these guys thrivin’ and kickin’ this much ass is a real treat. Steve’s bringing some exceptional stuff to the speakers here without a doubt – this dude knows exactly how to get a freakin’ tasty tone outta his guitars and I’m lovin’ it. Overall, “Whisper” ain’t the most blended mix I’ve ever heard on a song when it comes right down to it…production-wise, there’s a bit of room to improve that we notice more on this cut than perhaps any other in the lineup, but yeah…still a lot of really strong stuff goin’ on all the same. This one’s a tough one…there are so many things I’m digging about “Whisper” – I was just never sure about the mix this cut had…it just seems like there’s a potential in this cut that’s not quite reaching its 100%…close, but not quite. If there’s one thing we can all agree on I’m sure, it’s that the irony in this title wouldn’t be lost on any of us listening I’m sure – Virtue N’ Vices don’t “Whisper” all that much in comparison to how much time they spend yellin’ at us.
“Live In Infamy” was a really interesting cut to me – this is where things started to change in the direction of the sound on Edge Of Existence – and started to reveal the potential power of the versatility they’ve got from Dan on the mic. To me, there’s almost no question a track like this is influenced by Faith No More…you might be able to cite a few other related Patton-based projects too, but specifically, you’ll find “Live In Infamy” borrows heavily from Mike’s legendary influence, and brings out some righteously kick-ass moments from Dan as a result, in a whole range & display of what he can do. Much like Patton in that sense, he can bring it to the hooks with unrivalled power & crystal clear tone, or he can dirty it all the fuck up in all the right ways with a beastly scream or some cleverly used effects. Talk about mix redemption though will ya? “Live In Infamy” instantly restores the punch & power in the balance of the production and has Virtue N’ Vices sounding absolutely stellar as they storm through this cut. I could see this being a major stand-out track with the people out there listening to this record – it might ultimately be as strong as the majority of the lineup is, but the twist on their sound is just that much more noticeable here, that much more…inviting, I suppose…that I could see all kinds of people finding their way into a track like this one. When they light it up heading into the three-minute mark, I mean…c’mon folks – that’s the cherry on top at this point…”Live In Infamy” is without question one of the record’s strongest tracks, even if it’s just by the slightest of margins – the variation on their vibe in this cut seems to blast open the doorway of opportunity for this band, and they go on to conquer hard.
Listen to the punch in these guys will ya? Bass, drums, guitars…good lordy…they’re crushin’ it on “Modern Day Zombie” without question – and with Dan snarlin’ it up with his venomous approach, Virtue N’ Vices pack in an incredible amount of gnarly sound that won’t decay on ya anytime soon. Tracks like this are key though…regardless of what you do or don’t think about the song overall, listen to the production itself in comparison to something like “Whisper” earlier on – to me, “Modern Day Zombie” is right in the sweet-spot where they wanna be for the powerful & punishing style of sound they’re going for. At the root of this cut, “Modern Day Zombie” actually has an extremely kickass Jazz vibe goin’ on…think of something along the lines of how Alice In Chains used to bust that out every so often and get wild with swingin’ it out…it’s not quite as exaggerated or pronounced here, and it actually suits Virtue N’ Vices really well. Smart stuff though…even the title comes out with a different sound as its sung than you’d likely assume it would in your head before you pushed play – they’re bringin’ some real style & swagger into their brutalizing Alt-Rock sound here, and I’d imagine it’ll pay off nicely when it comes to the court of public opinion. Do I love the breakdown in this track? You freakin’ bet – the mix of voices spilling out from the lefts & the rights only enhanced the mayhem and madness of “Modern Day Zombie” even more. They put out a video to go with this one, and I can’t say I blame them whatsoever for going with this as a lead-single to entice the people out there into this record, it’s a very strong cut, played with spectacular confidence, flair, finesse, and fierce fuckin’ musicianship at all times. Chances are, after the last year we’ve all experienced, you’ll relate to this cut lyrically more than you know…if you haven’t become a “Modern Day Zombie” by the end of the pandemic era, lucky, lucky you.
“One To Blame” would have Virtue N’ Vices inching closer to the Finger Eleven vibe once again, which is absolutely fine with me. We’re talkin’ the old stuff…first two records before they lost their way a bit for a while…maybe even further back to when they were known as Rainbow Butt Monkeys, but with updated production…ahhh…some of you out there will get these uber-Canadian references…I have no idea if they’ve got Finger Eleven way down there in Hartford. I’d definitely be looking at this track as a potential single for Virtue N’ Vices…in terms of accessibility, they’ve got loads of it here – it still hits every bit as hard as the majority of their cuts do, but with more noticeable hooks people can latch onto. The opening acoustic intro was stellar…suits the band probably better than they might even realize actually…but that being said, it’s also largely that switch into the electric realm that gives this cut the next-level it deserves too. Dan at his most intense here proves what an asset he can be on the mic – I’d argue that you get some of his absolute best here, and there’s also an argument to be made that he keeps on gettin’ stronger as this track plays on as well. “One To Blame” is definitely another highlight in a set that’s been extremely consistent…just enough differences here in comparison to the rest to stand out, even if it’s just by a degree or two. With the melodic breakdown and intro it has…the energy at its maximum in the chorus hooks…I have the feeling that “One To Blame” is gonna be one of those cuts I’m really enjoying right now, and in about a week, I’m gonna be craving this track fortnightly for the rest of my own existence. For my money, tracks four to six on this record make up the most solid section of back-to-back cuts in this whole lineup – which you should ALSO dig folks – that’s just about the point where every record in the world starts to sag, and Virtue N’ Vices start to crank the heat up even more.
Like I was tellin’ ya from the get-go here, it was reasonable to expect that a band assembled with the pieces like this one has & the way they were brought together, only made sense that they’d go on to put out something really worth your time – and they’ve certainly made a strong case in that regard. When I got to “Not Alone,” I started to think to myself, realistically – what is it that I’m going to remember about this experience I’m having with Virtue N’ Vices exactly? Don’t get me wrong – we gotta use the space in our heads to hold all kinds of information…I’d be lying to ya at this point if I claimed to still remember every single track name off of every record I’ve ever heard – let’s be real. But that being said – I WILL remember this entire album, as a whole – that make any sense? And there’s two ways to look at that really…one being that, perhaps there’s still room for Virtue N’ Vices to dig in and find that major hook that none of us can deny and every one of us will remember on a singular track – and the other is, the cohesion on a record like this, is actually quite astounding. It’s completely because of how focused they are, how dialed-in to the sound they were looking to create, that we get this wall-to-wall bulletproof record that’s stocked with quality cuts that would be extremely hard to claim one is any better than any of the others really – that’s the kind of balance I’m talking about, and that ain’t no easy achievement y’all. Like, sure, “Not Alone” might start to wind it down a bit from the heights they reach in the three tracks before – but we’d be talking the slightest of degrees, and I’d still be willing to bet there would be legions of people that’d tell me I’m nuts and this song belong up there with the best too. Well ya know what they say y’all…opinions being like a-holes & all, we’ve all got’em – if “Not Alone” is up there with the best of the best for ya, I’m not gonna dispute your choice, it’s valid. For me, it’s moments like the breakdown of this cut with the vocals rampaging from the lefts to the rights that gave it just that bit of a twist to keep me engaged at the right time…I also really like where they’ve got the backing vocals set way off in the distance & how the lead vocals & guitar interact with it on the surface.
“Antagonize” is also a stand-out for the way the vocals are used…great ideas in the background harmonies and in the effects infused in through the production once again. To me, “Antagonize” is a perfect example of a band brewing a monster in their beginning stages – I think this song is good now, but in a couple of years, I bet they bring the whole fuckin’ house down by playing this track live. I think there’s potential to pack in a bit more punch into the chorus to match the level of intensity that you find in the verses or the power they put into them…but at the same time, there’s a push/pull energy in the atmosphere & vibe of this track that works well for them too. It’s like a subdued form of explosiveness – or perhaps more precise in its placement – Virtue N’ Vices know full-well when they wanna up the ante, and they clearly have no problem throwing that switch whenever it bloody well suits them – but yeah, still some room to perhaps make a track like this be even a little more in-your-face than it already is. Listen to that rippin’ up the fret-board that starts around the 2:45 mark too will ya? Awesomeness there to be found I tells ya. I’m a little surprised that you don’t find longer solos than you typically get from Steve on these tracks…they’re keepin’ these cuts real tight & most hovering around the 3:30 to four-minute mark…with the instrumentation they got, all I’m sayin’ is there’s room in the spotlight for a bit more. It’s a bizarre comment, I know, I know – you can hear these guys kicking all the ass throughout any of these tunes, clearly…you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a greedy bitch that always wants MORE, it’s just who I am. You really gonna blame me? I’d listen to solos by any of the players in Virtue N’ Vices.
I’d probably have brought Dan down a little bit on parts of “Pull The Trigger” and turned him up in others…I tell ya folks, we could spend a lifetime adjusting knobs & dials, and I’m ever-thankful that someone out there eventually says IT IS FINISHED, IT IS DONE, BEHOLD…no matter if it really is, or not. Kind of like a cut you’d expect to find on Nirvana’s Bleach it’s so gritty & raw in its structure and design…but this might be an example where more polish on the sound of Virtue N’ Vices might work against them a little…I have moments on “Pull The Trigger” were I wouldn’t have minded a bit more dirt in the mix, you dig? As it stands though, I’m not hearing anything so detrimental that anyone would complain about it – and I ain’t either…I’m just doin’ what I do, makin’ observations, thinkin’ out loud & all – but I do like what I hear. That being said, I was probably closer to being on the fence about the inclusion of “Pull The Trigger” more than I was any of the others in the set – it’s really not until the chorus of this cut that I’m feelin’ the vibe 100%. Sometimes the simple route is the best one to take – they don’t overcomplicate anything at all in the chorus hooks of “Pull The Trigger” – Dan just takes it straight to ya, singing “get away, get away” – or yelling, whichever ya feel like it is – however ya define it, that’s a huge moment, and one that continually pulled me just enough onboard to dig this track’s inclusion in the set. At the very least, I understand it – you can’t discover a moment like that and not want to get it onto a record…it’d be hard to toss “Pull The Trigger” and I wouldn’t have recommended that to begin with…I think it just needs a bit more of an even keel when it comes to the balance of its power. When you hit those hooks, there’s damn near nothing else that can rival the power they put into that moment on the rest of this song, and they kind of become the highlight by default, just as much as they’ve earned it at the same time, you feel me? The longest track on the record at nearly five-minutes in length, they’ve pushed this cut in every direction in search of what works best here – and to me, the answer is right in front of them…in you want my honest opinion, there’s an absolutely killer two & a half minute cut inside of this one…twice the speed in the verses, hit the punishing power of those main chorus hooks like you’re slamming straight into a wall of sound & pure force…I dunno. Y’all are the real pros out there, I’m just a guy that writes about stuff he could never do, like all critics out there – I’m just calling it like I hear it…some of my favorite moments are on this track, but some of my least as well.
One last track to “Burn’Em All” and melt your speakers with one final blaze. I am gonna caution this band once & once only…they’re treading CLOSE to Creed/Seven Mary Three territory in a few parts of this cut…perhaps a little Disturbed at others…and no one needs that kind of aggravation coming through their speakers anymore. I mean, we didn’t back then either, don’t get it twisted. I ain’t saying that they ended up there completely, in any of these comparisons – Virtue N’ Vices ride the edge without falling off – and their boldest moments & main hooks here bring the much needed push away from potentially going down the wrong avenue of being anything too similar to anything else. In fact, it might very well be the combination of styles that end up being why a song like “Burn’Em All” still ends up being every bit as strong as the rest of the record…because these guys have really embraced a hybrid vibe at the core of their music, and made it a part of their signature sound. Which incidentally, we should note – they HAVE – that’s right, I said it – they’ve got a signature sound – like, as in, real identity…I feel like I could pick out a Virtue N’ Vices track out of a lineup of songs blindfolded already, and being their debut, this is of course where it all starts. From here, it just keeps on gettin’ better…the songs get more refined, the hooks sharper, the production tighter…all that good stuff. Unless you’re Talk Show…R.I.P.! Other than that scenario, they’re all set for the future with pieces in a band as strong as this one – Virtue N’ Vices bring consistency that most out there will never possess, and they wield their power like a band that knows exactly how to use it. Definitely looking forward to whatever they come up with next – Edge Of Existence is a solid start for sure – give’em three or four records in though, and they’ll blow your minds.
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