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Thank you, Josh Silver. - 87%

Hellish_Torture, November 17th, 2014

If you have a consistent knowledge about 80’s metal and hardcore, you’d surely know something about the New York scene, where countless bands spawned everyday and where the incests between thrash metal and hardcore punk began to be practiced: bands like Cro-Mags, S.O.D., Nuclear Assault and Agnostic Front are essential for the birth of “crossover thrash”.

Especially, a sort of little, overlooked “sub-scene” was polarized around Brooklyn, and more specifically around the figure of Peter Steele and his pals. The Brooklyn scene had his fulcrum in the historical local “L’Amour”, where countless thrash/hardcore bands used to play in the 80s, and Carnivore was the most revered name. But, in the early 90s, the music scene began to change drastically. Thrash metal collapsed on itself: most bands broke up or changed style in order to adapt and survive, often achieving the total opposite goal. Often, from the ashes of certain bands, other bands were born: Crumbsuckers fell into obscurity, and then came Pro-Pain; Carnivore disbanded, and then Peter Steele formed Type O Negative. On the other hand, hardcore was definitely in a renewal phase, going for a “groovier” approach than before and flirting with some of the dirtiest, slowest and grooviest metal subgenres. This was the time when the hardcore/rap metal legends Biohazard came out from Brooklyn, reaching international fame and re-designing the coordinates of both hardcore and metal.

The collapse of the 80’s metal wave created a big sense of discomfort, depression and resignation, and this is what brought the Brooklyn scene to generate new acts such as Type O Negative and Life of Agony. The latter are obviously less known than the former, but both bands are deeply bonded by a sense of mutual collaboration: Life of Agony contributed in the creation of the monumental masterpiece “Bloody Kisses”, and their lineup featured Type O Negative drummer, Sal Abruscato (who was soon constricted to leave his main band, in order to focus more on this new project). And, in addition, Life of Agony’s debut, “River Runs Red”, was produced by Type O Negative keyboardist Josh Silver. And, being a very overlooked release in comparison to “Slow, Deep and Hard” or “Bloody Kisses”, I’d like to spend some words about it.

First thing first, this is far from being a carbon-copy of Type O Negative. Forget this idea. The music offers some vague similarities with the famous goth/doom band, but the substantial style is very different. “River Runs Red” offers an interesting mix of different styles which were pretty typical in the early 90s. The guitar work is highly reminiscent of groove metal, 90’s hardcore and sludge metal, offering mostly slow, gross and palm-muted riffs in the vein of Biohazard, Eyehategod, Pantera and Sepultura (the latter especially on “Bad Seed”), with a little touch of grunge/alternative rock and 80’s crossover thrash. This sonic mix is more original than what you may think, in fact it’s very difficult to think about a band that embodies all these same elements all together.

These guys were clearly looking forward, holding just few ghosts of the past: in fact, on one hand, the title-track still offers a “vivacious” old school punk vibe, and the first track “This Time” begins with a fast-paced crossover riff; on the other hand, the presence of grunge elements brings a precious sense of catchiness to the album, which ends up being very fitting in a modern alternative rock context (on “Respect”, for example, there’s a riff whose rhythmic structure recalls Nirvana). However, don’t think that this is an “easy-listening” album made for average/occasional music consumers: lose yourself in the sludgy sickness and decadence of songs like “Underground” and “Words and Music” before daring to say it. The riffs drag down, hopeless, often dwelling much on palm-mutes and dissonances which make you feel lost in an emotional void.

The grunge component of the album is not only represented by the catchiness of some riffs, but also by the vocal performance of the well-known singer Keith Caputo (which, few years ago, changed sex from male to female: now, she’s called Mina Caputo). He has a very personal vocal style, with a discrete vocal extension that shines especially in the refrains (sounding definitely different from Peter Steele’s baritone style). Sometimes, like on the well-known refrain of “This Time”, his vocals get a bit goofy and cheesy, in the vein of many U.S. thrash bands that were switching to groove metal in those years, but the catchiness of the aforementioned refrain brings it to be totally addictive (in fact, right while I’m writing, I’m feeling like I can’t get enough of it). Sometimes, instead, Keith’s voice gets more depressed, sounding more suffering and surely more “credible”. Beside these two precise and classifiable styles, a definite anomaly is represented by “Method of Groove”, where Keith sounds almost like he’s attempting to “rap” in a very raw and messy style, but not bad after all.

However, as I stated before, there are still some little comparisons to be drawn with the style of Type O Negative. First of all, Sal Abruscato’s drumming style is immediately recognizable in its polyhedric nature, especially in the tendency of using a lot of atypical fills and backbeats in order to make interesting even the slowest sections (by the way, fast paces in the vein of old thrash/hardcore are very hard to find on here: there are just very few, rare moments, like the beginning of the first track). In addition to this... on many tracks, such as “Through and Through”, “Words and Music”, “My Eyes” and “Respect”, you will find a lot of vigorous and powerful gangshouts which are very, very reminiscent of Type O Negative. But it’s when the music gets slower and more depressed that the biggest comparisons with Peter Steele’s band can be made: “Bad Seed” features even gothic keyboards and whispered vocals, which are blended with slow sludge/groove riffs and sick NYHC atmospheres, similarly to the almighty masterpiece that Type O Negative had released in the same year; “Words and Music” and “Respect”, despite a certain catchiness, are just as black as pitch, sounding brutally honest in their affliction and their existential pain (which, at that time, wasn’t certainly an exclusive right of Peter Steele). The peak of hopelessness is reached with the final song, “The Stain Remains”, where the band dwells between gloomy arpeggios, decadent and sad sludge riffs, massive gangshouts, some few moments of hyper-fast hardcore stuff and, most of all, an incredibly depressive vocal performance, summarizing everything “River Runs Red” is about.

The bleakness and the negativity that permeates this project is recognizable also in the main concept of the album; between these ten songs, there are three interludes: “Monday”, “Thursday” and “Friday”. They seem to tell the story of a man who ruins his everyday life in a whole week, closing himself in a total state of apathy and, consequentially, losing his job. At the end, on “Friday”, while the title track of the album is played in the background, this guy commits suicide under the shower; his wife, who was very pissed off with him, finds him dead and screams desperately. Then, after some water drops falling in a disturbing silence, the album ends, leaving you with a bittersweet feeling. You feel that, pretty much like Type O Negative, Life of Agony’s pessimism still keeps some hints of self-deprecating irony, hitting you with a subtle “tongue-in-cheek” attitude. I think the disquieting presence of dark humor on this album works very well, breaking a bit of the atmosphere in a refreshing way, but still without betraying the main essence of the songs. The innovative mix of different styles and moods makes “River Runs Red” a little jewel of the Brooklynian metal/hardcore scene: it’s a great witness of the early 90s, a revolutionary period where everything was uncertain and barriers between genres had definitely been destroyed. It’s a shame that, in the subsequent years, Life of Agony lost themselves on the track, disappearing in the void. However... thank you, Josh Silver, for having produced these guys and having helped them to sign with Roadrunner, a label that in 1993 was respectable yet.

Overlooked 90's NYHC-Gone-Grunge/Doom Classic - 97%

Sigillum_Dei_Ameth, May 1st, 2014

This album.

This MASSIVELY overlooked 90's classic. And you better damn well know it my friends. And I have to disagree with the reviewer before me comparing this to anything from the NOLA Sludge scene for the most part. Don't get me wrong, I dig and love me some NOLA Sludge such as that seminal first Down album, "Take As Needed For Pain", stuff by Crowbar, etc. But fucking Life of Agony is WORLDS away from the dirty south. No Life of Agony in short was what would happen if you took the Cro-Mags, took the speed out of their music, replaced it with a shitload of Alice In Chains melodies/depressing Grunge musical capabilities, combine it with Sabbath Doom Metal-like heaviness. In short it's a Hardcore/Metal/Grunge hybrid that is beyond fucking rare to find in music and it's depressingly beautiful and HEAVY AS FUCK. Even Boston's answer to this band, Only Living Witness, NEVER got this fucking heavy and that is saying a lot because I'm a worshiper of the genius of 1993's "Prone Mortal Form." "River Runs Red" in short is a concept album about suicide. It tells the story of a troubled young man who is experiencing everything that could and DOES drive him to suicide through instrumentals in the form of answering machines and the sounds of a very unhappy life that are labeled after the days of week; much like the downward spiral of Jack Nicholson's character in "the Shining" into utter madness, this story is the downward spiral of the main character into the depths of suicide. And in between those instrumentals is hands-down some of the best fucking music from the 90's. The band backing the instruments are already pulling ace's out of their collective hats.

Vocalist Keith Caputo provides this really weird vocal style that's somewhere between a blues-like croon, a depressing wail, and a deep-as-fuck/hard-as-fuck Hardcore shout. Definitely applying mainstream-type vocals to this 90's hybrid music and he shines right the fuck thru. Really infectious performance. Keith also provides keyboards to a couple songs which gives it a depressing overtone. Guitarist Joey Zampella.....holy FUCK!.....that guitar tone. Straight-up down-tuned Cro-Mags-meets-Black Sabbath-meets-Alice In Chains heaviness. It is seriously heavy as shit. He really provides some of the most memorable riffs (and I DO mean RIFFS damnit!) and some bone-crunching fucking breakdowns. Like these breakdowns are definitely mosh-worthy and do not feel ashamed to let out your inner bro and even start picking up pennies or do the gorilla style moshing/dancing. The drummer, Sal Abruscator, whom everyone should know by now was part of 90's Goth Metal pioneers Type O Negative, provides the heavy backbone to the music and bassist Alan Robert providing sub-end bass vexation.....all four musicians provides numerous strengths that all come and click rather well together and is some of the tightest I've heard outside a few other seminal albums. It's one thing to be awesome at your instrument, but it's another to be able to click and be fucking tight with the music.

"River Runs Red" is like a kaleidoscope of songs in the magnitude of sonic heaviness and lyrically hard-hitting topics. It's really hard to pick a favorite here or to even give you an understanding of how fucking depressing this album is, but I think I might be able to give you a hint of such with the lyrics from the song "The Stain Remains.";

"Everyday - I live it
Everyday - I face it
Everyday - I hate it
All I need is me and that's it

Sometime I don't see any point in life
Can't seem to break away
From the pain that's here to stay"

Yeah. Take that all you melodramatic word-worshipers of the pen. And that's not even the fucking tip of the iceberg either. Here's another big giant ray of fucking sunshine to help your day become even MORE positive:

"Well maybe my mind's deceiving me
But I think you took the easy way out
You left me standing there empty handed
As soon as you put that gun in your mouth
So please don't keep on asking
If there's something wrong
'cause you know damn well if I was fine
I would've never ever written this song" - "Bad Seed"

Keith Caputo really bares his fucking soul out here lyrically and again you can just hear the utter pain in his vocals. Combine that with the intensity of back-up Hardcore gang-type vocals in certain songs, this album just doesn't fucking let up until the last instrumental you are ready to eat a bottle of Tylenol or hang yourself with your belt around your dumb neck in the bathroom.

NOTE: I'll do the songs and instrumental separately because of the fact that it's IS a concept album. "River Runs Red" starts off with the song (and first single) "This Time." I can see where some people might call this Sludge, but no...this is more akin to Blues-influenced Doom mixed with NYHC influences (I mean fuck look at where the band is from for Christ's sake!). The lyrics to this is about how a father is losing his son. Again, more happiness for ya. The riffs are fucking excellent and is an excellent introduction to the song 'Underground" which brings the fucking mosh. Keith croons "If you don't walk with me, I will walk alone" which then turns into the MASSIVE fucking riff/breakdown around the 00:40 mark. This song is more anthem-like and is a bit on the upside of things as far as lyrics go. Which after this amazing piece of riff savagery. After these first 2 song we hit our first instrumental:

Monday: the sounds of an angry, hellish bitch-of-a-mother yelling, a kid running upstairs to his room, turning on his answering machine and getting the news of how his girlfriend has now broken-up with him.

After this instrumental we go right back into the music with the title track "River Runs Red" with it's catchy chorus "The river runs red, and I think I'm dying! Ohhh yeaaahhh!" which afterwards we hit the second single off "RRR" that is aptly titled "Through & Through"." This is obviously a better offer or I say a better introduction to a band such as Life of Agony considering the fact of the really contrasting musical genres they managed to somehow make work together. "Words & Music" might be just one of the only songs on here that I tend to overpass because it just doesn't hit you quite as hard. After those 3 songs, we are upon instrumental number 2:

Thursday: Poor kid comes back home to that hellish-bitch-of-a-mother who is still screaming at him saying how much of a failure he is and is just like his father. Runs back up to his room and we hear two new messages on his answering machine; 1 of them is his employer calling him to basically say "Fuck you ya bum, yer fired" and the other message is a guidance consular telling him he's flunking 2 subjects and won't be able to graduate on time with his peers.

We then hear this ghostly-like female voice whispering something, atmospheric keyboards and a guitar melody that really lays the atmosphere on thick and then back into the Doom/Grunge influences combined with the NYHC heaviness. "Bad Seed" is a MASSIVELY heavy hitter as far as lyrical topics go, as pointed above. This is one song that Keith Caputo wrote about his own mother if I am not mistaken. "My Eyes" kinda ties into the concept of the main character of the album in which now the main character starts contemplating suicide. The lyrics "So, so, so don't even try/ Just give me one good reason to live/ I'll give you three to die/ Let's leave this world behind" are pretty fucking bleak. "Respect" and "Method of Groove" are much like "Words In Music in the fact that they don't hit me as hard but it doesn't detract from the fact that they are both awesome songs, just not the ones I would remember the most about on this album and definitely wouldn't be the two that I would first play for someone who has never heard of Life of Agony before. Then finally we get the the epic last song. And much like "My Eyes" the character has finally decided to make that fatal decision to end his life as one can tell through the lyrics. The lyrics also deal with the fact that if someone is in the throes of clinical depression and don't KNOW that they are, and are not given help what-so-ever that this is the kind of shit that happens unfortunately. The song starts off much like "Bad Seed" with a haunting intro with keyboards and creepy melodies and then BOOM! We get massive fucking breakdowns and more NYHC back-up gang vocals. The song alternates between the intensity and has that haunting pre-verse section's the depressingly epic finale of a hands-down one of the most bleakest albums I've ever heard and don't tell me about some shitty Xasthur or Strid or I Shalt Become clone because trust me, I've heard them bands has come this close. Period.

Friday: The poor kid comes back to his depressing home and his bitch-of-a-mother just goes from yelling to flat-out psychotic arguing with some alcoholic father. The kid just runs up stairs to the bathroom, locks the door, turns on the shower, and slices his wrist. His mother opens the doors and all we hear is his mother screaming "JESSSUUUSSS CHHHRRIIISSTTT!!!" and the fading echoes of her screams and the sounds of water dripping. Death doesn't even provide a release from the pain for this poor soul.

And there you go. The album just ends like that. It's a really bleak way to end an album but the effect that one gets is that these sort of things are not the one to turn a blind eye to. Overall there's only 3 songs that I tend to just not even care for but past that obviously minor gripe, the rest of this album is total ace. The saddest thing about Life of Agony is that after this album they just didn't do anything that would stand-up next to this. They had a very unique sound that again no band could hold a fucking candle to as far as offering in terms of originality. I've tried listening to their other material and it's cool if they wanted to try other things, but I just didn't dig it. I didn't feel anything that resembled the impact that is "River Runs Red." This album is an essential, a must-own, a must-have, a pillar in terms of music and influence and it currently resides somewhere in my top 25 albums of all time and my top 25 musical influences of all time. That's how much this fucking heavy this album is.

Buy. Now.

Overlooked 90s Metal Greatness - 90%

DarkRecollections69, February 15th, 2014

What bands do you think of when someone mentions the 90s sludge/groove metal scenes? You probably thought of Pantera, Down, Crowbar, or perhaps Eyehategod or Acid Bath. While all those bands are great and essential to their genres, one band remains that usually gets overlooked in the scene and that band is Life Of Agony. Jam packed full of emotion, darkness, hopelessness, and bone crushing sludgy and groovy riffs, Life Of Agony's debut deserves a spot among such legendary releases as NOLA, Odd Fellows Rest, Far Beyond Driven, and When The Kite Strings Pops. While many know of this band, it seems they never quite got the recognition they deserve and I'm not quite sure why. The sound of the record is tight and heavy and the riffs will get stuck in your head for days. Many influnces are evident on the album but aren't exactly easy to pinpoint. The vocals could be described as having a strong Peter Steele vibe with perhaps a touch of Glen Danzig. The music combines the catchiness of bands such as Crowbar and Acid Bath with the heaviness and groove of Pantera.

Former Type O Negative and later A Pale Horse Named Death drummer Sal Abruscato handles drumming duties. All of the tracks on the album have their own personal memorable riffs and catchiness that makes them stand out. Songs like "Underground" and "Words and Music" have great transitions between crushing doom sections, midpaced thrash riffing, and groove breakdowns. "Through and Through", one of my personal favoites, speeds things up a bit with some faster hardcore influnced riffs and a perfect buildup to a catchy chorus and even features gang chants. "Bad Seed" features one of the catchiest riffs on the record and would be great in a live setting. "Method Of Groove also serves as one of the most hardcore influnced songs with more gang chants and almost a rap like chorus. The album features no filler and entertains all the way through. The combination of different styles works great on the record and will leave as lasting impression on the listener. Elements of groove metal, sludge, hardcore, and even thrash can be found, making for a great and unique listen.

Some may find the rather odd combinations of styles a bit hard to stomach at first but everything is blended together tastefully and makes for more impact upon repeated listens. Fans of many different metal genres can find much to enjoy here. Hopefully more people will look back on this release and realize the true brilliance to be found on this record. This record could easily be held up to any of the classics of the scene. If you enjoy the 90s sludge or groove metal scenes or just heavy metal in general, give this record a good listen and you won't be disappointed.
This overlooked 90s metal gem makes for one of the most vile and sludgiest listens of 90s heavy metal. Heavy as a ton of bricks, this record will leave you wanting more.