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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.