Sunday, January 6, 2008

Review: Vestiges of Ecstasy - HEAVENandHELL (2007)

Vestiges of Ecstasy [ MySpace ]

Angry. If I had to use just one word to describe HEAVENandHELL, the new album from Indiana's Vestiges of Ecstasy, it would be that one. Each track oozes a loathing for the male species that is at times beyond palpable. Before I delve too deeply into my review, though, let me take a step back and provide a bit of background on the band. Vestiges of Ecstasy is not a new band, but has existed since January of 2003 under the moniker HEAVENandHELL (you can read my reviews of their previous two releases here and here). With the rise of Dio's Heaven and Hell project, founders Gregg Jones and Mia Kileen opted for a name change and thus Vestiges of Ecstasy  was born. Though their name has changed and the line-up features three new members (Chad Jackson on guitar, Jeremy McQueary on bass, and Derek Felix behind the kit), the band's core sound remains intact and still features a familiar style of bluesy rock.

Now, about that anger... Lyrically, the majority of HEAVENandHELL comes across as a sort of anger management exercise for frontwoman Mial Kileen. Most of the songs deal with dysfunctional and broken relationships, involving themes of infidelity (which also happens to be the title of the first song), self-absorption, egos, and disrespect. I have compared Mia's vocal style to Pat Benetar, and oftentimes while listening to HEAVENandHELL I wonder if this is what it would sound like if Pat covered an Alanis Morrisette album. That being said, Mia has grown as a vocalist since the previous releases. Rarely does she sound forced, and always she sings with true emotion. The one track where the vocals just don't do it for me is "Liar in the Shadow of a Cheat", though the reason has very little to do with Mia. The song features her in a duet with Sahar Montalvo (singer of another Indianapolis band called Dystalis), and while Sahar has a powerful voice the two conflict with each other more than they compliment. Elsewhere, Mia expands her style to include whispers, shouts (particularly on "Outcry"), and multi-layered vocal effects.

The area where Vestiges of Ecstasy has experienced the most growth is musically. At the core they retain that bluesy "bar rock" sound that defined their previous albums, but on HEAVENandHELL there are times where the riffs are just a little more urgent, the groove is slightly heavier, and the solos a bit less restrained. Bands like Evanescence come to mind as these moments appear throughout the album. The overall songwriting style remains the same, so each track still features tempo breaks, but where the action is heaviest there seems to be a lot more meat than in the past. My favorite track, "In the Key of B", keeps the breaks to a minimum and features a fairly intricate performance from McQueary and a catchy guitar riff. A rather heavy breakdown leads into an extended solo from Gregg, keeping the overall tempo of the track up while still providing a noticeable change of pace.

Vestiges of Ecstasy have not only changed their name, but they've released a solid album in HEAVENandHELL that shows a definite maturity not only in songwriting but also in Mia's vocal performance. I still recommend this band to those with an ear for straightforward hard rock.

Track Listing
1 Intro 0:40
2 Infidelity 3:50
3 Outro 0:24
4 Darkness 3:00
5 Throwing Stones 3:57
6 While The Sparrow Sings 2:29
7 In The Key Of B 4:11
8 Liar In The Shadow Of A Cheat 4:37
9 BF Intro 0:30
10 Beyond Forgiveness 3:14
11 Pergatory 0:45
12 Secret 3:55
13 Outcry 3:59
14 The Ultimate Answer 0:16
Total Runtime 35:47

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