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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.