It’s never easy writing a review for an album. Like so many other forms of the written word, there’s a multitude of ways you could go about doing it. So many different styles. You can write from the first- or third-person perspective depending on if you’d prefer it to be a more personal or broad delivery. And then how do you begin the review? Sometimes that’s the hardest part. That’s the issue this particular writer was facing when I sat down, fingers poised to type on my laptop. The album I’m writing about is an absolutely incredible piece of work. Beyond phenomenal musicianship and lyricism. But that almost made it all the more difficult if for no other reason than wanting to give this album its due respect. But upon facing this dilemma I was reading the bands Facebook page, in particular the ‘About’ section, and a certain passage stood out to me. “For all those who have been longing for a way to express their innermost hidden fears, secrets, and desires – Of Virtue reaches out and hopes to be a voice in musical form”. It then hit me; by being a reviewer I am in a sense an extension of this voice (meant very loosely). I listen to what I’ve heard then turn all I’ve soaked in and deliver my thoughts and emotions on it all to you the readers and future listeners. I indeed was longing for a way to express all I had experienced when listening to the bands SharpTone Records debut, What Defines You. An awe-inspiring question to ask really. How does one go about figuring something like that out? What is it that shapes and molds someone into the person they are? The contributions to such a predicament are limitless.
The opening track on the album, “No Control”, seems to pose the exact quandary of not knowing who you and what you are, nor where you fit in, in this crazy world. Opening with a daunting level of heavy the song quickly kicks it up into a ballistic barrage of all instruments ripping the very threads of your speaker as they pummel into your lobes and ultimately your core. Quite fitting when you think about it seeing as trying to understand something as perplexing as the age-old question oh whom someone is supposed to be could assuredly be something that drives one to the brink of insanity. The lyrics of the song display just such a difficult impasse. ‘Every day another unfamiliar face staring back at me. The many hands of the clock spin faster. Circling endlessly, draining the life out of me. Over and over again, this vicious cycle never ends’. For anyone who’s ever been faced with this, you know that this could only lead to that precise feeling of having zero control of anything going on in or around your life. Sonically the song wavers back and forth between raging instrumentals and more melodic delivers which whether it was the bands intention or not exemplifies these notions impeccably.
When going through the motions of trying to figure out exactly what defines you, one may attempt to look towards the skies. There are things that happen in most people’s lives that are unexplainable, and when these occurrences transpire it’s only fair for someone to wonder if these moments could involve the persuading hand of a higher power. But when one goes looking for this supposed omnipresent, omniscient being and yet receives no answers or signs, then they can begin to question the existence of said being and if he or she does at all. Or at the very least if he or she does exist, do they care at all? That is exactly what the track “Alone” seems to hope to convey. The words seem to be delivered from two different points of view. The individual looking for guidance; ‘Sometimes you’re in over your head, making you feel like you’re drowning. Looking for a hand to reach’. And perhaps God him/herself (attempting to be as impartial as possible with my word choice in this area); ‘I know you’d need me in your life to get where you are going, but you’re starting to think differently’. In the chorus the words speak to the fact that this individual has reached out seemingly many times for God’s guidance without receiving any sort of a response at all. The individual now feels as if God doesn’t truly care at all and has chosen to pave their own path. Instead of waiting to find out if there’s so called reason that things go the way they do and he is the way he is, he has chosen to make things happen himself which then decidedly would help him to discover who he truly is. This song felt quite different from a lot of what Of Virtue has done in the past. The band has lost zero edge with this track, but it is significantly a more melodic song overall, almost border lining on an alternative metal route. Even lead vocalist, Tyler Ennis favors a cleaner delivery even with the scattered mix of scream/sung vocals. The song oozes a rhythmic level transmission ne’er heard before from the Lansing, Michigan boys and is a more than welcome addition of skills to their ever-growing repertoire. One moment you’ll be snapping your fingers and the very next snapping your neck. This track is sure to be a stand out and favorite of many
Of Virtue has always seemed to have a knack for the way in which they deliver their instrumentals. They without a doubt know how to bring the heavy, but are no strangers and have no fears in slowing the tempo down to add just the right amount of melody so as not to be a one note band so to speak. Although they could absolutely be defined (only musically folks, this is not a reference to the album title) as metalcore, the group never pigeonholes themselves into one simple defining rod. They incorporate so many other different elements such as hardcore and even hard rock to hold shape what they want to sound like. The previous track embodied their more hard rock tendencies while “Suffer” favors a more core sound, but conveys it with a hard rock tempo and beat. Even as I write this paragraph, I find myself rocking my body side to side and head back and forth while listening to the opening moments of the track. A bouncy intro which then slams you in the face with heavy guitar work and Ennis angrily delivering this songs message; Hello God. Are you there? To describe this question as frustrating wouldn’t really do it justice. Even the word infuriating seems to weak. But what else could it be when it seems like God rarely if ever listens to your prayers? Guitarist and additional vocalist, Damon Tate, sings a heartfelt delivery during the chorus of wondering why God has left the protagonist of the story to suffer all alone. This has now turned into anger and is leaving him with little of what he could have once been. The chorus is slower in temp if only to hammer the message home that much more intensely. When listening to the chorus you can’t help but start to feel the anger beginning to rage deep inside even if you yourself aren’t a believer. The great thing about these words is they could be applied to anyone that you have depended on for guidance who seems to give little care if any at all to what happens to you. This track is your outlet of rage.
One of the most surprisingly stand out tracks on the entire album has to be “Pictures Of You” featuring Kalie Wolfe of the band Rivals. An emotional plea for a love that has been lost. Admittedly I found it difficult to decipher between whether that was due to a breakup or a death, but either way I felt a deepened sadness and drain that shook me completely. We have all faced a loss such as this on both ends of the spectrum. And when it’s something you held so dear it can truly change who you are forever. I only hope I don’t insult the group by stating that this track could be a useful tool for any listener that’s facing either of these types of losses. The song begins with Ennis singing in such an impassioned manner that could possibly bring the listener to tears. Once brought to the initial chorus the cadence is slowed way down, which only creates a greater wallop on your emotional state. The second verse which is delivered by Wolfe is an incredibly mirrored state of affairs given by a different perspective on the matter. Her voice soars over the music and is a more than welcome addition to the track and only makes it that much more sentimental.
Of Virtue find themselves at their most angry and brutal with the track “I Won’t Break”. Almost channeling their innermost Slipknot if you will, the group gives you a song with which to rip off the roof of your house to. Beginning with haunting tones the song swiftly kicks into overdrive instilling you with an involuntary fit of rage which will assuredly result in something being broken (but not yourself). We all face hardships in life. Moments that can strike such a chord they can help to shape and mold how we react and what we become in the aftermath. It’s how we choose to handle these situations that then helps to define who we are. Will a breakup leave you heartbroken for all time? Will a betrayal from a family member leave you broken and angry? Will the loss of a job leave you hopeless and directionless? What will you do in these moments? Fight. Fight to move on. Fight to become a better you. The point is to not let these sorts of things get to you and break your spirit. You need to harness what could very possibly become a negative energy and turn into the drive that puts you out on top. And if you’re looking for a little inspiration in that area, this song could be your tool. The song in relentless in its conveyance. Quick in pace and angry in a way which is a means to an end; showing you that you can use that anger to create something wonderful. The pits and your blockades in life will not be safe.
When sitting down to write this review I was searching for a way to convey what was in my mind into words that could be shared with the world. It wasn’t easy. As previously stated, this album means a lot to me (as I’m sure it will to others) and I wanted to be sure that those words payed it a proper homage and created a level of excitement for the reader so they too could see what this album could be to them. Not only did I love each and every track, but so many of the songs even made me question what it is that truly defines me. I actually had to take a step back from my own mind and dissect parts of my life to try and figure that out. This album became a tool for me as I know it will for so many others. The individual subject matter is broad, but it all leads back to the title and one of the biggest questions of anyone’s life, What Defines You? Through its angrier tracks and its more emotionally driven ones the listener will be able to use this album as not only incredible music to listen to, but a way to find out some answers to their own questions. Of Virtue have truly created their greatest masterpiece yet, and shown the world there is so much more to come.