The intense focus Aunt Stella’s Ashes places on the rhythm section serves their new single, “Shades of Gray”, quite well because bassist Mike Mancuso and drummer Pat Schiavo are talented enough to discharge its demands. There are a lot of subtle tempo manipulations powering the collection from the first and it keeps the song in a near constant state of mild flux, but it takes considerable skill to pull that off without ever allowing the song to veer off course. There’s just the right amount of tastefulness guiding the playing, but it’s clear these guys are straight up virtuosos in their chosen style and could let it rip with ear-popping skill at any given moment. They are serving the song, first and foremost, however and it gives the track an extraordinarily strong foundation to be built on.
Aunt Stella’s Ashes’ avowed intent is to craft groove oriented, dark heavy rock for these modern times and “Shades of Gray” definitely fits the bill. Guitarists Dano Spangler and Kevin Smerdon work with palpable chemistry that never tries to dominate the track and the seamless integration of front man Tim Schichtel’s voice with the musical mood makes this track an even more unified listening experience. The band’s influences like Black Label Society, Testament, and others don’t necessarily come through in this tune, but what Aunt Stella’s Ashes has managed to do is take more than a little of the intelligence and dramatic attitude that makes those aforementioned acts so potent and blend it with a distinctly more commercial musical setting that promises to connect with many listeners.
Schichtel’s voice underplays much of the lyric, but still manages to convey the menace and dark mood at the center of the songwriting. The guitar sound is thoroughly modern, but yet obeys all of the expected fundamentals while still flexing its muscle with a totally individual touch that especially emerges with the guitar solo in the song’s second half. The song’s running time of a little over four minutes is both ideally suited for radio and live performances alike while the relatively stripped down nature of the song’s musical attack makes translating it to the stage an even more inviting proposition.
The band’s continuing rise will only grow more accelerated with the releases of singles like this. “Shades of Gray” is a song that challenges the band musically, never panders to its target audience, and yet fits it in exceptionally well with the hard rock genre without ever attempting to remake the wheel. Aunt Stella’s Ashes are still, at this point, a largely regional phenomena, but getting the word out about singles this good could conceivably change their situation overnight. It’s a song well worth having those discussions about. “Shades of Gray” is an ever timely reminder of what a first class and committed rock act can accomplish when they have the talent and the time to make their original material shine.