Birmingham, Ala., transplants Virgos Merlot bring a callous edge to this pop-friendly city. After a brief listen, you'd think the Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland was off heroin and disguised as Virgos' lead vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Brett Hestla.
"Signs of a Vacant Soul," the band's debut album, is a sonically impressive first effort, but Virgos Merlot has a ways to go before reaching full potential. Each song embraces the same pattern: Hestla sings a few lines, then the heavy guitar assault chimes in. The group dubs itself a dark, alternative-rock band, but really the music is reminiscent of similar outfits such as Creed and Soul Coughing. "Kiss My Disease" is a pacific ballad. "The Cycle" and "Gain" sound like any other song you would hear on the radio.
But don't totally write off Virgos Merlot. Hestla's wailing range runs the gamut, and these guys are certainly talented, not to mention young (20 to 24). The band seems to have the capacity to go to the next level -- if they can just get away from the ho-hum lifeless alternative rock that inundates us today.