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)

Life_of_Agony-UglyThe Back Story: Brooklyn quartet Life Of Agony had already released a little record called River Runs Red, which we’ve discussed on this site beforeRRR 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 By 1995, LOA‘s hardcore roots seemed hopelessly out of date in the context of NOFX and The Offspring, and “metal” was a dirty word altogether.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.

life-of-agonyAlbum 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.

Keith-CaputoThe 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.

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  • geoelectric

    Hah, this was one of my favorites back in the 90s–actually got me into LOA, and then I went backwards from there.

    • DrChocolate

      Exact same here. Started with Ugly, loved it because that’s who I was in the ’90’s, and then went backwards. RRR is genius and I even still think this is a pretty solid record. It’s somewhat dated and very indicative of it’s time but it’s still effective. Both still get regular spins from me.

  • Eryops

    I like to think with the rise of so many record labels (albeit that many of them are owned by the big ones) any band will find a label to sign them (or self-publish), and no one will ever be told to change their image like they were in the 90s again.

    Although I realize this is probably just a fantasy of mine.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      You raise a good point — between the decline in label influence and the fact that being blatantly “metal” is actually popular, the odds of this ever happening again are pretty slim. That’s what makes it so damn fascinating.

  • Eryops

    Although on the subject of LoA: This was the only album by them I ever owned, and yes, it was very awkward to listen to. Especially if I had it in my truck and there were other people with me who may have been paying attention to the lyrics.

    • geoelectric

      It’s extremely…intimate, I guess, in a way that metal generally isn’t. You don’t generally get “abandoned child” as a major lyrical theme, at least outside a prog concept album or something. But I think that’s part of why I liked it–it was different, Caputo was different. I don’t really lump this into angry 90s nu-metal. I can’t think of anything like this album that came before or since.

  • KingKuranes

    I kind of liked this album back in college. I thought it was a step down from RRR but not really a huge departure, and I really thought Keith’s voice was perfect for the Simple Minds cover.

    • KingKuranes

      Actually, looking at all the other 90s metal weirdness entries, I had and enjoyed most of those albums.

      • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

        Me too. Sad, isn’t it?

      • geoelectric

        Yeah, me too. This section has been a nostalgic walkthrough for me. I have much fonder memories of most of these than the reviewers seem to!

  • Jay Alan Goodwin

    Saw these guys open for Type O on the Bloody Kisses tour. Good show from both bands. Type O Negative was amazing. Better live than on their albums, in fact.

  • lvtnsnddpths

    I would like it if this website posted an AMG guide to acceptable nu-metal. I was 16 in 1996 so i have a huge soft-spot for it. It’s not all bad! An article on the very best (and very worst) of rap-/funk-metal 1990 – 2000 would go down a treat!

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Now THAT’s an idea! Mr. AMG, Mr. Druhm, what do you think?

      • That would be fun, but I would have almost nothing on my “Best of” list.

  • alexfranquelli

    I love LoA and this album makes no exception. It reminded of Green Day, back then, but, as a kid who was ‘lost at 22’ I couldn’t help but like it. The River still Runs Red !

  • Jacqueline Laine

    Far as I know, the stuff he sings about his mother actually did happen. Just thought I’d throw that out there (and thanks for the pointer to RRR, kinda liking it).

  • Damn-Deal-Done

    You need to give this album far more credit than you do.