Life Of Agony
A Place Where There’s No More Pain
28th April 2017 - Napalm Records
01. Meet My Maker
02. Right This Wrong
03. A Place Where There’s No More Pain
04. Dead Speak kindly
05. A New Low
06. World Gone Mad
07. Bag Of Bones
08. Walking Catastrophe
09. Song For The Absurd
10. Little Spots Of You
Were it possible to to travel back in time to the mid-nineties and ask music fans which bands would be releasing new music in 2017, the chances are that Life of Agony wouldn’t have been picked by many. Hell, there were several points where it seemed like the band wouldn’t last another week before they first threw in the towel in 1999. But here they are, with A Place Where There’s No More Pain, ready to confound expectations.
We’ll get into precisely how they go about confounding those expectations in a minute, but first let’s hitch a ride on that time machine and fill in some background for those of you who may be hearing Life of Agony’s name for the first time.
Originally coming to prominence with the release of 1993′s somewhat harrowing exploration of youth depression and suicide, River Runs Red, Life of Agony were often lumped in with the NYHC scene. This seemed to be more a marriage of convenience based on geography and the bands they shared stages than their actual sonic recipe.
Further built upon on the 1995 follow-up Ugly, Life of Agony married muscular, chunky groove metal riffs with raw and emotional lyrics about loss, fear and confusion, delivered through the disarming and distinctive vocal style of frontman Keith Caputo. The sincerity of this emotion was, if anything, made even more remarkable by the knowledge that the lion’s share of the songs were written by bassist Alan Robert.
By 1997, a sense of change and uncertainty was in the air. Drummer Sal Abruscato had left during the touring cycle for Ugly, Keith was moving away from his distinctive vocal style and, certain lyrics aside, the clouds seemed to be lifting from the perpetual gloom of their preceding albums. Any sense of optimism may have been misplaced, and Keith left the group shortly afterwards. The band attempted to continue, improbably, with Ugly Kid Joe‘s Whitfield Crane taking his place, but the band dissolved completely soon afterwards.
After some time in the wilderness, doing their own things, the Life of Agony line-up that recorded the first two albums first reconvened in 2003 for a few shows, and a new album. That album, Broken Valley, was not especially well received, and with the band themselves seemingly not happy with it either, they parted ways for the second time.
But all was still not completely lost. With Keith now fully embracing a new identity as Mina, Life of Agony have come together again and, having taken their time a bit more to arrive at A Place Where There’s No More Pain. Phew.
Perhaps it might seem long-winded to sprint through the bands entire history as a preamble, but putting this particular album in its context is more important than most. There’s a pleasing closing of the loop for a band that once sang about being “Lost At 22” arriving at A Place Where There’s No More Pain exactly twenty two years later.
Life of Agony in 2017 is clearly the most comfortable they have ever been in their own skin. A little older, a little wiser and a little more honest about who they really are. As a result, they have produced a mature and self assured collection of solid rock songs.
Interestingly, they appear to have reached something of a point of convergence with other nineties bands who have regrouped in recent years. Strains of Alice In Chains can be heard on “Right This Wrong” and “Dead Speak Kindly“. Perhaps more surprisingly, there are hints of post-reunion Jane’s Addiction on “Walking Catastrophe“. However, with little to prove and youthful angst a thing on the past, all three can simply focus on simply writing good songs.
Of course, that’s not to say that Life of Agony have lost their old identity entirely, even if A Place Where There’s No More Pain has more in common sonically with Soul Searching Sun than River Runs Red or Ugly. Guitarist Joey Z’s thick, crunchy guitar tone has an equal claim to Life of Agony’s signature sound as Mina’s voice, and it is in full effect here. “A New Low” and “Bag of Bones” are probably the most recognisable for long-term fans looking for a more instant hit in the new material.
Of course, a cross that all bands that have split and reformed have to bear is that the post-reunion tracks will never receive quite the same response from existing fans as the songs they have loved for two decades – but A Place Where There’s No More Pain stands strongly enough to potentially attract new fans in its own right, whilst retaining enough to prevent older fans from wandering off to the bar when these songs are played on stage. The majority of these songs would clearly sit comfortably in a setlist alongside old favourites like “Through and Through” or “Weeds“.
Maybe those older fans might feel a slight pang of disappointment that A Place Where There’s No More Pain showcases a Life of Agony with something close to a sunny disposition. However, it’s possible that artificial gloominess would have been an even greater betrayal for a band that has so boldly worn their emotions on their sleeves over the years. Of these tracks, only “World Gone Mad” feels like it relies too heavily on well-trodden clichés.
Ultimately, A Place Where There’s No More Pain doesn’t really break any new ground or push back any boundaries. It is not the sound of a band hungry for validation or searching for truth. It is instead the sound of four musicians writing the music that they really want to write. What’s more – and this point stands whether or not they continue on from this album to produce another – the album provides the possibility for the Life of Agony story to have a happy ending. That is something that would have seemed impossible until very recently, and only the most cold-hearted bastards would deny them that.
Whether it proves to be their final chapter, or the start of a new volume in their history, A Place Where There’s No More Pain is a fundamentally honest and enjoyable rock album, providing it is judged on its own merits rather than misplaced nostalgia.