Though Stage seemed to be positioned as a late entry into the nu-metal sweepstakes, touring with the likes of Trapt on the cusp of its eponymous major-label debut release, the band is more about mettle than metal. Even the more aggressive tracks -- such as lead cut "The World Has Come Between Us," which is probably what U2 might have sounded like had they been from Long Island instead of Ireland, and "I Will Be Something," which could be a Goo Goo Dolls track if they wanted to rock again -- won't be accused of being angst-ridden cries. To be sure, the defining facets of Stage's sound are the lyrics of Ryan Stahr, which are emotionally tinged, and his impassioned delivery, a high-pitched yelp that makes you think of an angry Dave Matthews or Eddie Vedder (witness "I Don't Know," a ballad that is likely to produce more tears jerked than lighters aloft). He can even get away with corny musing such as "I Know Where You Are" ("I hope that you missed me/I'm glad that you kissed me/I'll see you again when I die," the song begins, and doesn't much improve before it ends) because you get the feeling he honestly buys it.

As you can tell from the comparisons, the band straddles the fence between adult alternative and straightforward, greasy kids stuff. On one hand, this unique approach gives Stage a fairly distinctive sound, though it also makes it tough to see where the group will fit in. The material is strong enough to knock down some barriers on either side, despite the occasional ham-fisted hackneyed heartache within. ~ Brian O'Neill, Rovi

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