A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with friend and former Angry Metal Guy colleague Jordan Campbell about how influential bands of the 90s have changed significantly, and usually for the worse. While we disagreed on some aspects, we both agreed that Life of Agony had the strangest career arc out of all of them. Like many bands in that time period, the Brooklyn hardcore act burst onto the scene with 1993’s River Runs Red, an album that not only got me through some rough patches as a teenager, but also one that holds up reasonably well to this day. I won’t bore you with the details, but many abrupt changes in sound, vocalist Keith Caputo’s departure in 1998 after 1997’s psychedelic Soul Searching Sun, and not one but two disbandings soured me on a band that I once held in high esteem. But times, tastes, and people change. In hindsight, 2005’s uncomfortable comeback album Broken Valley was also uncomfortable for Caputo, who openly came out as transgender shortly after the album’s release and now goes as Mina Caputo. Fast forward a full twelve years later, the River Runs Red line-up has reunited for a second time with their fifth album, A Place Where There’s No More Pain.
And this was the follow-up I wanted after River Runs Red. Opener “Meet My Maker” shows glimpses of RRR‘s heft and groove, with guitarist Joey Z. and bassist Alan Robert in perfect lockstep with Sal Abruscato’s hardcore drumming patterns. The biggest change lies in Mina’s performance, and not for the obvious reasons. While she sounds amazing on her solo work, she was hit-or-miss in the past with LoA, oftentimes sounding like she was unfocused or dialing it in at points. That’s definitely not the case here, as she sounds absolutely confident, delivering some of her best work in the context of LoA since their explosive debut. There’s enough groove on here to get people moving and longtime fans smiling, and that’s a huge feather in their ballcap. Already, it just feels right.
That feeling continues throughout, as the aggression and hooks keep on coming. The title track and “World Gone Mad” both make welcome additions to their live set, with the former containing an infectious chorus and the latter being one of Life of Agony‘s speediest numbers. But just because they’re looking to the past on No More Pain, doesn’t mean they’re not taking risks with their songwriting. Closer “Little Spots of You” sounds like it was penned from Mina to her younger self, being only a piano and her singing. The way the song (and album) ends abruptly, hinting at a successful suicide attempt, sends a shiver through me more convincingly than “Friday” did on RRR.
Produced by Matt Brown, No More Pain sounds like a conventional hard rock record. The drums sound great, the bass is full, and the guitars cut just right without overpowering everything. Mina’s voice is also mixed well, retaining the spotlight but not sitting on top of the music. My biggest issue is with the track listing. No More Pain is frontloaded with their heavier, speedier numbers. By proxy, the second half, while still good music, feels a bit tired and lethargic as we head towards the finish line. Again, there are no bad songs, but a shuffling of the track list could do the album wonders. Also, don’t go into this expecting River Runs Red – The Revenge, as there’s little in the way of hardcore on this. And frankly, I don’t think LoA were aiming for that, regardless.
But there is one thing I do have to mention, and that’s Mina Caputo’s performance. As I stated above, Mina has never sounded this confident, this comfortable in her own skin, and it reflects positively in her performance. Don’t confuse that comfort with complacency, however (check out her impressive vocal range during “Walking Catastrophe” for proof). Her transition did her a world of good, and I want to applaud her for her bravery and performance. It takes some major guts to come out, especially in one of hardcore’s most influential bands, and she did it with ease and ferocity.
There’s no question that No More Pain is a solid slab of hard rock. In fact, it makes a nice gap between RRR and Ugly. It also gave me an appreciation for their earlier work, as I’ve gone back and unearthed some gems that I otherwise didn’t have the time of day for previously. Going forward, I hope Life of Agony continue following their own muse and not giving a single fuck what anyone has to say. That’s the Life of Agony we all know and love, and I’m happy to see that version make a triumphant return.