New Yorkers Life of Agony blazed a trail of gloom through the metal scene throughout the nineties, turning their hand to a variety of styles in the process, burning brightly to the faithful but never really making a wider impact on metal’s chattering classes. Reforming now with an eye on the ever-burgeoning nostalgia market would seem to be a good idea, but how does a band that had it’s finger in so many sonic pies back in the day decide which baskets to put their eggs in this time around?
Sensibly, the band have decided to eliminate their earliest and latest incarnations from inquiries, settling on an often enticing mixture of styles centred around the three albums they recorded for Roadrunner between 1993-97, River Runs Red, Ugly and Soul Searching Sun.
Opening with two unremarkable tracks – Meet My Maker and Right This Wrong both purvey the sort of unloveable, down-tuned grunge-inflected hardcore the band were happy to trot out without much effort throughout their career – APWTNMP doesn’t get off to the greatest of starts, but really ignites on track three, the quite superb title track, which features the first of several incendiary performances from vocalist Mina Caputo.
Caputo may have largely abandoned the fragile baritone from the days when she was known as Keith, but the intensity and pain in her vocal remain, meaning that the thing that gave LoA their point of difference in the sea of mediocrity that was late-nineties US metal – the searing honesty and damaged power of her delivery – is still intact. This means that even quite sterile material such as Dead Speak Kindly still has something going for it, Caputo lifting guitarist Joey Z’s sometimes prosaic riffage to higher levels with the conviction of her delivery.
The driving A New Low keeps things interesting, despite repeating the title a little too often in the chorus; Joey Z’s doomy riffage here sounds welcome and familiar rather than irksomely rehashed, as it also does on the spritely World Gone Mad. In these tracks the band sound reborn, safe in the knowledge that when they really are firing on all cylinders there are few from their generation that can touch them. When they lift their heads out of the gutter and start looking to the stars, no matter how desperately, that’s when the mojo works it’s magic for this band. There may be nothing here to touch the grandeur of Soul Searching Sun’s meisterwerk Weeds; but tracks like World Gone Mad reassure you the band still undoubtedly has it within it’s grasp to reclaim that musical high ground again in the future. And that’s perhaps the most heartening thing about A Place…
Bag of Bones starts off well, using a cast-iron Type O Negative riff to good effect and Caputo delivering some nice vocals, but fades badly, whilst the psyche rock of Walking Catastrophe brings pleasant memories of Caputo’s excellent 1999 solo album Died Laughing flooding back and again shows what the band can do when they stray off the path just a little.
Like most of Life of Agony’s previous work, A Place Where There’s No More Pain offers a mix of fragility and force, of breathtaking skill and loutish brutality. Somewhere in this maelstrom lies what Pop Idol’s Randy Jackson would refer to as ‘their wheelhouse’; And if they don’t reach that happy place quite enough on this album to place it with the best in their canon, it’s certainly going to please longstanding fans of the band a great deal.
Life of Agony’s A Place Where There’s No More Pain will be released by Napalm Records on April 28th.