CD Review of Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice by Vaux

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Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice
starstarstarstarstar Label: VX
Released: 2006
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It took Vaux longer to release their third album, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice, than it did to record. Recorded in late 2004/early 2005, Atlantic, the band’s label, refused to release it, and they eventually gave the album back to the band – which, after not being able to find a label to pick it up, bit the bullet and put the damn thing out themselves on their own label, VX.

This bizarre label vs. band battle sounds reminiscent of Wilco’s now-legendary feud with Warner Bros. to get Yankee Hotel Foxtrot released, an album that is already considered a classic by many and the band’s greatest achievement. So is Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice Vaux’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Will it go down as a daring experimental masterpiece whose rejection from the major labels will be vindicated by mainstream success and critical acclaim?

One can only hope.

Nearly unclassifiable, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice contains musical elements that you might find in records from bands as diverse as Muse, Slayer, Slipknot and even Coldplay. Vaux’s mastery of genre-blending is breathtaking, and their ability to switch between several different styles of rock (sometimes in the same song) should impress even the most hardened rock fans.

Much of the success of Beyond Vice, Beyond Virtue can be credited to Quentin Smith’s amazing vocal prowess; he’s like some uncanny mimic (a heavy metal Rich Little, if you will) that can reproduce nearly any and all rock music vocal stylings with 100% accuracy and emotion. Just when you think you have songs like “Identity Theft” pegged as an above-average Radiohead clone, Smith does a complete 180 and belts out a savage beast of a yell that would make Tom Araya from Slayer proud and Thom Yorke wet himself.

Other times Smith’s pitch-perfect wailings seem to work as a beautiful contrast to the manic, pulse-pounding music around him. “Cocaine James,” which is one of the best songs on the album, exemplifies this as Smith keeps sings melodically and somberly as the world seems to come to an end around him, only occasionally lapsing into much-needed screams and yells.

But the band behind Smith’s stunning voice deserves credit as well. Greg Daniels’ crunching guitars (and eerie keyboard work) drive the emotion behind the words like a jackhammer, and the intense drumming of Ryder Robinson (holy shit, that’s an awesome rock star name) ain’t too shabby either.

Even though they seem to be balancing everything from glam-pop to industrial-metal, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice never sounds disjointed and no songs sound out of place. Fast arena-rockers like “Burn the Bandwagon” somehow seem right at home with Gothic ballads “To the Nines” and glorious pop songs (the instantly catchy “Need To Get By”). There isn’t a weak track on this album – an astonishing feat from a band that has only been recording for about three years.

Sometimes the best stuff comes when you don’t expect it, and that’s definitely the case with Vaux and Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice. Simply put, this is an amazing album by a band that has truly come into its own. This is an astounding accomplishment that blows away nearly every other rock release from this year.

~James B. Eldred