It’s been over a decade since Life of Agony released Broken Valley. I don’t remember what the critical response was, but it didn’t matter. One of the most important bands from my youth was back, and it was glorious. Plus, I finally got to see them live, then I got to meet Keith Caputo and Joey Z after the show, and THEN…
Sorry, that was spiraling out of control. The point is, I freaking love this band, and I’ve missed them dearly. In the interim, I’ve changed jobs, gotten married, had a kid, watched River Runs Red turn 20, and followed along as Keith transitioned into Mina. All the while, and amidst various reformations and splits, I’ve held out hope that LOA would once again come together. That hope will at last be realized in 2017 when they release A Place Where There’s No More Pain.
I wrote that back in January in anticipation of this album, already salivating from a brief clip of the title track released by Napalm Records. Then in February, life took a pretty crushing turn, as the company I had worked at for over 10 years decided that my position (and whether they admit it or not, me as a person) was no longer needed. There I was, the sole source of income for my family faced with the prospect of unemployment and no way to support them. It wasn’t long after that the full title track was released as a single, and by god if it wasn’t exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
Fast forward four months. You’d think having all this time on my hands would give me plenty with which to listen to and write about music, while providing a much-needed distraction from reality. Funny how things work out. Daylight hours consumed by the need to push forward with the job hunt; nighttime hours consumed by the helplessness of nothing happening. Sure, I was able to visit A Place Where There’s No More Pain a few times, but there were always external or internal distractions. Perhaps most disturbingly, even in those focused moments, I felt nothing aside from the title track. The band that had always made me feel SOMETHING, and very often knew exactly what to say, was having the same impact as the dozens of others currently cluttering my hard drive.
My mind has been going to some pretty dark places lately, and in general I just sort of hate the person I’ve become as this drags out. The waiting is the hardest part, and it seems like there’s no end in sight. I just KNOW that Life of Agony is the band to get me through. I just had to keep at it – and recently, it all began to click.
The overall musical vibe of the album isn’t that surprising, as it continues along the lines of its predecessor Broken Valley (you could stretch that to Soul Searching Sun, but that always had a bit of a – for lack of a better word – sunniness to it). Upon further consideration, it really isn’t that far off from their Ugly peak; it’s just a bit cleaner and benefitting from technological advances. At any rate, you know it’s going to be a dark ride though with an opening track titled “Meet My Maker”. If Mina is in a better place these days, you’d never know it as she sings, “I’m ready to meet my maker / cause I’m headed for the end”. That’s a simple sentiment delivered with such surrender that you wonder if she’ll even be around for the rest of the album.
Taking a closer look at the title track, it’s not just another suicide note, as the band is actually offering hope. Well, a sort of hope, anyway. Sure, “Find a place where there’s no pain – and hide” isn’t exactly facing your problems, but it’s staying alive. Really, that’s all I’m looking for these days. Places, moments that I can hide in for even a short time to get away, get some perspective. It sure as hell isn’t staying up until 2am every night playing solitaire in a poorly lit room. This song is one of those places, those moments, every time it comes on. Fleeting at under three minutes, but somehow, I’m filled with a little bit of positivity, a little bit of hope that things are going to be OK. People have been telling me that, people who are close to me, and I’ve only sort of believed them, passing it off more as typical lip service. Somehow, though, the connection I’ve made with this band and their vocalist over the years makes it believable.
“A New Low” takes things back to the despair. “Losing my will to fight / hold on with all my might /darkness takes the light” – this is basically where I am right now. Minimal motivation, yet determined to push forward, because the alternative just isn’t an option. This is also the focus of “Bag of Bones” – “bottle it up and find a way / to make it through another day.” Downtuned trudge-type riffs give way to more urgent ones as Mina’s anguish bleeds through, and once again she’s saying exactly what I’m thinking. This is about as much as I’ve talked about it this whole time. I don’t want to worry people, but I think they’re starting to see through my ruse.
I try balance that out with a rage directed toward this “World Gone Mad”, which isn’t really the theme here, but better to lash out than to stand by as all this terrible stuff is happening all around us. The riffs here add a feeling of losing grip on one’s sanity as they drive, escalate, and decline through the chorus and verse. Hey, as long as the rest of the world is messed up, maybe things aren’t that bad, personally, after all.
As the album closes, I become more empathizer than kindred spirit – not all experiences have to be shared. But it’s stuff like “Song for the Abused” that makes me want to wrap Mina up and keep her safe (and in full disclosure, I would have done the same for Keith – music is a powerful thing). All of the pain expressed so far pales in comparison to closer “Little Spots of You”. Just Mina, a piano, and some haunting string accompaniment deliver this disturbing tale of self-harm based on a true story. The spots, then, are blood, soaking through sheets or dripping down the side of a bathtub. As she speaks the line “There’s a loneliness so great in this world” and the track literally flatlines, it’s as though a suicide note has been carried out. If you’re not feeling something here, check your pulse.
(Author’s note: I’ve really focused on Mina Caputo here, and she deserves it. I’d be doing a disservice to the band though if I didn’t mention guitarist Joey Z., bassist Alan Robert, and drummer Sal Abruscato. Life of Agony is bigger than one person; they are a collective. It’s no coincidence that the low point in their career to date is the one album without Abruscato on drums, or that the band did not last long after Caputo’s departure in 1997. They each comprise an equal share of the band’s soul. You’re not likely to see any of them on any of those top musicians lists, but the way they fit together creates something so unique that it defies both explanation and duplication.)
Alright, so A Place Where There’s No Pain is doing all that I could have hoped it would – keeping me afloat through troubling times. There are a few lesser moments that I didn’t mention but they don’t drag down the pace and overall effectiveness of the album. This one lands squarely in the middle of their discography, behind Ugly and River Runs Red, and ahead of Broken Valley and Soul Searching Sun. Thank you , Life of Agony, for always being there. The world is truly a better place with you around. In fact, it’s a place…well, you know.