Cast your minds back to a time when metal music was not cool. Nay, indeed, a time when metal was anathema to all that was considered to be “chic” and “in.” A time when your favorite bands were actually encouraged by the music industry to play slower, cut their hair, and write sensitive lyrics about their childhoods. Yes, this unfortunately really happened.
Our new semi-irregular feature “90s Metal Weirdness” focuses on albums released between 1992 and 2001 and which we all probably would rather forget. But in the service of publicly shaming the musicians involved, we have pushed forward. — AMG
Life Of Agony – “Ugly” (1995)
The Back Story: Brooklyn quartet Life Of Agony had already released a little record called River Runs Red, which we’ve discussed on this site before. RRR is a modern classic with one foot in metal and the other in east coast hardcore, anchored by huge mosh-worthy riffs and the powerful baritone voice of Keith Caputo.
When it came time for the follow-up, however, the game had changed significantly. By 1995, LOA‘s hardcore roots seemed hopelessly out of date in the context of NOFX and The Offspring, and “metal” was a dirty word altogether. Trapped in a world where everything about them was suddenly unfashionable, LOA did the only thing that made logical sense: they started playing puss-rock and singing about their parents.
What Does It Sound Like: In many ways, Ugly is 90’s Metal Weirdness 101. Almost all of the aggression and hardcore influence from RRR has been stripped away, replaced by tame midtempo riffs, verse-chorus-verse song structures, and overly tormented, “deep” lyrics. In other words, they did precisely the same goddamn thing that every other metal band did in the early ’90s, only moreso. Everything great about Life of Agony — Caputo’s voice, Joey Z.’s monster rhythm guitar chops, etc. — is wasted on a batch of boring-ass songs that go nowhere.
There are a couple tracks I can make an exception for. “I Regret” and the title track kick the tempo up a notch, and come closest to the River Runs Red material. Still, those minor shots of adrenaline are not nearly enough to wake you from an Ugly-induced coma. Also, the album contains a rendition of Simple Minds‘ “Don’t You Forget About Me” that arguably kicked off the trend of Roadrunner bands doing novelty covers.
Are There Any Songs About Molestation? I’m gonna skip this question (the answer is “no,” BTW) to direct your attention to something far more significant: the overwhelming amount of lyrics on Ugly that are about the narrator’s parents.
Album opener “Seasons” is obviously a message from a son to his father, but it’s a good enough song that it can be overlooked. Deeper into the album, Caputo delivers not one, but two songs about his mom — or more accurately, TO his mom. One of these tracks, “Let’s Pretend,” contains the lyric “Mommy, it’s me/it’s Keith.” Of course it’s fucking Keith, dude, your name is in the CD booklet! Also, I’m not your mom.
On a serious note, if even half the events described in “Let’s Pretend” and “How It Would Be” are true, then I genuinely feel for Caputo and what he went through. Regardless, his lyrics and delivery are way too literal to be anything but uncomfortable for the listener. On the other hand, if ’90s rock was simply bands trying to one-up each other with tales of their miserable childhoods, then Keith Caputo won by a goddamn mile.
Stupid Political Lyrics? Unless Caputo’s parents were involved in politics, I’m gonna go with “no.”
Is There Any Rapping On The Album? No…although, Joey Z. and bassist Alan Robert had already traded rhymes on “Method of Groove” from the previous album.
Were Haircuts Involved? Hard to say. LOA was never really about the image anyways, and I doubt anyone would even recognize these guys on the street.
The Aftermath: Shockingly, Ugly did not propel LOA to stardom. They found a better approach to melodic rock on their next album, the vaguely psychedelic Soul Searching Sun. Caputo then left to pursue a David Bowie-esque solo career, triggering a series of rapid and bizarre lineup changes (Whitfield Crane from Ugly Kid Joe?!) before LOA finally called it quits in 1999. Of course, they eventually reunited to play some River Runs Red-themed tours, and released the not-terrible Broken Valley in 2005. After that, things got really interesting.
A couple years back, Caputo revealed that he was transitioning to become a woman, changing his name and appearance accordingly. LOA was still active at this time, resulting in a few European gigs where fans got to see the band fronted by some lady who sounded suspiciously like Keith Caputo. The way I see it, being a transgender person fronting a band like LOA takes a tremendous amount of guts. Can you imagine someone from Cro-Mags or Sick Of It All going on stage with makeup and fake tits? They would instantly get killed. So, much respect to you, Mina Caputo. You’re weird as hell, but you’ve got balls (still).
These days, Life Of Agony is on hiatus again, with the members pursuing various other projects. Alan Robert writes comic books, and Joey Z. runs a recording studio. Besides Caputo, the only other member who is actively making music is Abruscato, who currently fronts A Pale Horse Called Death.