Walk through the list of trials, tribulations, and transformations — physical and emotional — Life of Agony underwent in order to reach a point where we now have A Place Where There’s No Pain, their first album in 12 years. Watch and read the interviews. Then go back and listen to an album molded in the most classic of hard rock shells, where voice, guitar, bass and drums meet to craft a journey through dark and messy corners, guilt and shame and rage that reaches a level of catharsis over the course of its ten tracks. It’s also a monster of a record refreshingly unapologetic in its approach to what Life of Agony is in 2017.
Taking the preceding statement a bit further, what Life of Agony ISN’T in 2017 is even remotely interested in revisiting the sound on their debut River Runs Red. They haven’t been in 22 years. A Place Where There’s No Pain sits firmly in the heavy rock sound of Ugly and Soul Searching Sun, particularly in the open string riffing that kicks off leading track “Meet My Maker” and the razor sharp lock-step of the drums and bass in “Walking Catastrophe.” The sonic engagement between Joey Z, Alan Robert, and Sal Abruscato borders on clairvoyant, taking care to let each song breathe and reinforce the moods and narratives Mina Caputo weaves in the vocals. The Alice in Chains inflected “Dead Speak Kindly” moves with the lyrics, at times massively heavy, then moving to a dark morose dirge before hitting with a powerfully uplifting chorus. “A New Low” treads similar ground but has a heaviness (thanks to a massive bass line from Robert) that equals the heaviest pieces of the band’s discography.
All of which leads to Mina Caputo and her reinvention of herself and as the voice of Life of Agony. It’s easy to simply say A Place Where There’s No Pain is Caputo’s confessional of the confusion and ultimate freedom that came with her gender reassignment. But Caputo’s strength as a lyricist and vocalist has always been her ability to write specifically yet engage the listener in such as way as to sing their pain as well. The chorus of “Right This Wrong” can speak to the wrongs done by others as much as the wrongs done yourself. Likewise the lyrics to the single and title track might allude to the stage, but can double as the safe hollow we all run to when the pain and suffering become too much.
From a purely vocal perspective, Caputo shines with melodic choices, often taking unexpected turns like the upward turn on the line “Gone forever/I’ll never see your face” on “Dead Speak Kindly.” The verses in “World Gone Made” play with cramming words in each line, recalling the killer chorus on “Weeds” from Soul Searching Sun. And the haunting, broken effect used on album closer “Little Spots of You” echo the experimentation in mood that was a hallmark of Ugly.
Sitting firmly at the crossroads of aggression and melody, A Place Where There’s No Pain feels like a band reinvigorated and ready to demonstrate why the aura around Life of Agony is as bright now as it was 25 years ago. River Runs Red and Ugly proved this kind of music can sit next to anything and more than hold its weight, and the things that truly make the band great: a commitment to mood and tone anchored by killer melodies and riffs, with a deeply emotional core that can finally stand unveiled and unapologetic in its grace and power. Crushingly beautiful, Life of Agony is back.
Welcome to the New World Low.