The discovery of a new band is always exciting. Will it be something you’ve heard countless times? An experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Or is it a treat from which you cannot stop consuming? I wanted to take a trip back in time to reminisce about bands/albums that not only introduced me to heavy music, but kept me coming back for more…
From The Archive: Life of Agony – River Runs Red
It’s been a bit of time since my last write up, and thanks to fellow heavy bloggers Juular and DeusExMachina, at least this column wasn’t diminished due to my absence, so I thank them for keeping it alive! Anyway, I last left off talking about Long Island, NY hardcore band Skycamefalling, and I felt it was best to continue my trek through the music of my teenage years. So for this weeks installment I will be covering another band that is close to home, Brooklyn, New York’s Life of Agony, and more importantly their 1993 debut album, the angst-filled hardcore/heavy metal hybrid, River Runs Red.
I will go as far to say that River Runs Red is one of the essential hardcore albums of all time, and any fan of the genre who has yet to listen to it should check it out post-haste! Now as you can already tell from the positivity radiating from my opening statement, I have nothing but love for this album. And to further add to my enjoyment of this album is the fact that while not only being a solid listen all the way through, it’s also a concept album, and a bleak one at that. River Runs Red deals with the theme of loss, isolation and suicide through the course of its 50 minute running time. To further accentuate this premise, the album contains three short filler tracks titled ‘Monday’, ‘Thursday’ and ‘Friday’, in which these tracks delve more into the ongoing shit storm of a week in the life of the antagonist of the story. Basically, this is no stroll through a flowery meadow, but more like a trudge through an overflowing, gutter filled alleyway.
To best describe their sound, Life of Agony are a hardcore band at heart, but they also spliced in a bit of hard rock/alternative metal to give it a more broad appeal. Seeing as how some might fringe at the thought of certain genres getting all mixed up, Life of Agony pulled it off quite well. If you’re at all familiar with Helmet, imagine their sound but a bit more complex and throw in the baritone style vocals of Keith Caputo, which are reminiscent of Danzig/Type O Negative, and you got yourself Life of Agony. Sound odd? Well it’s not, and for those who are new to the band, here is the title track ‘River Runs Red’ to give you a taste…
Life of Agony – ‘River Runs Red’
Speaking of Caputo, he is without a doubt the driving force of this album. Usually with being a vocalist that comes with the territory, but this album lives and breathes on his voice, as it conveys the general hopelessness on the record giving the general idea of what seems to be a hurt and angry young man confused with the futility of living. To further the raw emotional effect, the lyrics come across just as powerful.
Of course, there are a few tracks that attribute more to the N.Y. hardcore sound/scene (think Pro-Pain, Madball, and Biohazard), such as; ‘Underground’, ‘Words and Music’, ‘Method of Groove’, and ‘Respect’. And while they do offer tidbits into the main story, they happen to lean towards a more positive outlook and a feeling of unity/brotherhood. This will no doubt have more of an impact on someone if they are/were a part of the scene at the time or still are. But the majority of the tracks stick with the story line, and the delivery of the vocals/lyrics still, to this day, give me goosebumps.
“It’s these words and music. That keeps me living, keeps me breathing” – ‘Words and Music’
Life of Agony – ‘Words and Music’
Various influences can be heard on this album, as the opening track of the album, ‘This Time’, kicks off with a bang, as a heavy thrash riff starts things up, which then transitions to more of a groove (which is quite prominent throughout this album), complete with a catchy chorus, volleys of double bass drumming, hardcore breakdowns, and a nice grungy sounding solo. You need to remember, this album came out in the early 90’s, and grunge was all the hype back then, so this album has moments that captures that sound. But the heaviness never strays, as Joey Z.(guitar), Alan Robert(bass), and Sal Abruscato(drums) stick to a strict formula on this album, and provide plenty of punchy riffs, pounding drums, and deep/groove oriented bass to keep the album flowing.
Although Life Of Agony is no more, their members have continued on in other projects, and the band did leave behind this gem. The album was groundbreaking, because it fused N.Y. hardcore with the riffage of early 90’s metal, and coupled it with deep, angst-ridden lyrics, and the melodic and powerful vocals needed to pull them off. I was lucky enough to catch them on their River Runs Again tour back in 2003, and besides the venue being completely packed to the brim, the show was amazing. The band was on point and Caputo sounded just as good, if not better than any of his recordings. Truly a classic hardcore band at the top of their game, delivering one of the best albums of all time. Simply put, it’s one of those albums that you never get tired of listening to.
Life of Agony – ‘Through And Through’