Aunt Stella’s Ashes isn’t some glorified solo vehicle or cover band; this is a straight ahead unit of sympathetic musical personalities who sound and play like they’ve found their musical path. Their new single “Shades of Gray” opens with a fluid bass guitar attack augmented by some powerful drumming from Patrick Schiavo before the song comes fully alive. The band’s ambition to write and record dark, intense heavy rock in the vein of acts like Alice in Chains and Black Label Society is carried off quite well here and with a hint of instrumental excellence in the snake-like way the tempo continues to slither through the entirety of the tune. Schiavo’s drumming is recorded with great urgency and has a physicality coming through from the first that never fails to work in subtle rhythmic shifts. “Shades of Gray”, without ever sounding strained or self-indulgent, has a strong orchestrated side that helps give it more power.


Tim Schichtel’s lyrics and vocals are one of the keys to the song’s success, but they are never presented as anything else than another element in the band’s musical arsenal. Schichtel sings along with the arrangement rather than juxtaposing his voice against the musical backing, but the vocal melody exercises enough independence from the instrumental melodies that it gives the song added creative depth. The lyrics, likewise, are tailored to serve the song and broach familiar subject matter, but the writing manages to capture something individual about the band’s point of view without ever compromising their connection with casual listeners. It’s obvious that Schichtel never really pushes his voice here, but the subtle modulations along the way enhance the track’s level of drama without ever stepping outside its borders. Even on a recording, the chemistry between the vocals and band is tangible.


The guitar duo of Kevin Smerdon and Dano Spangler are virtually indistinguishable throughout much of the release, but this isn’t a bad thing. They balance presenting a coherent, unified musical front for listeners against selected moments when they choose to step out with moments of personal flourish. The lead guitar break just after the song’s mid point is a telling example of how these two six string masters are able to draw clear and productive distinctions between their respective styles. The rhythm section, aside from Schiavo’s strengths discussed earlier in the review, really benefit from a synergistic connection with the bass that remains one of the song’s production focuses throughout. Aunt Stella’s Ashes have a distinctive name that stands out without ever seeming gaudy, they’ve obviously transmuted a bevy of influences into an unique sound all their own, and opening for a number of top shelf and/or iconic live acts reflects the growing level of respect they are earning from fans and their music world peers alike. “Shades of Gray” continues the upward swing for this band and let’s hope it spreads their name further than ever before.




Shannon Cowden