This afternoon, we continue making our own lives that much more difficult with the ongoing practice of ranking the songs that comprise some of the greatest albums of all time; albums previously inducted into our untouchable Hall of Fame. Today we explore Life of Agony's classic debut River Runs Red (originally inducted way back in issue #7, which you can buy here).
Though both Ugly (1996) and Broken Valley (2005)* are more consistent, adventurous records, River Runs Red was no doubt the only real choice when it came time to induct Life of Agony into the Decibel Hall of Fame. Sure, at least a quarter of the record is tentative boundary pushing that proves far too deferential to the band's obvious NYHC roots, but in those moments when they hit on that alchemy peculiar to them and them alone it is powerful, original, and viscerally affecting in a way very few bands in this genre or any other can match.
Let's get into the particulars of the flowering of this new breed of bad seed...
Gunnar and Matthew Nelson don’t typically get a lot of love in this space, but those dudes killed this brand of angst-y, theatrical, my-family-be-on-my-case-all-the-time-and-it-totally-sucks-bro intro in the “After the Rain” video three years before River Runs Red dropped. Nice homage, dudes, but if you think you’re going to out-grit the Nelson boys…well, you’re living in a fantasy and you can’t let go.
10. “Method of Groove"
How this awkward, Biohazard knock-off remains a fan favorite amidst such a smart, multidimensional, heart-on-sleeve oeuvre is a complete fucking metallic hardcore mystery. In the opinion of your humble correspondent this cartoonish, tough-y tough guy dick swinging should’ve been relegated to a forgotten growing pains cassette demo until the time came to dredge up some retrospective special edition fodder. It's actually pretty insane only three years separate a song this aggro and the band's Lifehouse-meets-Velvet-Revolver 1997 album Soul Searching Sun and -- even crazier -- a mere six years out from Caputo's sublime crunchy, freewheeling indie rock solo record Died Laughing.
"We'll point you in a new a direction"?
Ok. Cool. Please do...
9. "The Stain Remains"
Gorgeous, slow-burn opening, perfect breakdown choruses, nice callback bridge...all unfortunately weighed down by some seriously junior high lyrics and phone-it-in hardcore jamming.
"Respect" does a better job of enmeshing the gang chorus machismo into the heart and soul of what we will come to think of as the Life of Agony sound, and we get glimpses of something more substantial here and there along with a great metallic outro riff, but...sadly, no. Not there yet.
Joey Z is a psychotic palm-muter set loose in a field of breakdowns on this track. If the old grimace-jiggle chin-grimace-jiggle chin-go-punch-a-stranger-in-the-head and/or songs about how insanely cool your scene is, you will probably need to change your shorts after this one. (And maybe you should anyway?)
6. "Words and Music"
Oh, man, lot of stuff to love here: The King Diamond-y high register layered vox. Cheesy synth weirdness. A truly affecting, meandering-through-the-graveyard breakdown. Unpredictable sonic turns and dives. It's a little too busy and doesn't always quite gel, but you can't help but appreciate the ambition and willingness to shirk convention. A real butterfly-in-cocoon track, right up to the meaner version of a riff that will really take flight on Ugly's "Other Side of the River" a couple years later.
5. “My Eyes”
Alright. Now we're talking. This song is quintessential LOA -- the elegant, soul-on-fire croon-yowl of Caputo lighting up a hardcore-meets-groove-metal backdrop. Flawless execution. You can't really fuck with the transitions, riffs, or emotion here.
4. "This Time"
I've always loved this track as a counterpoint to the Ugly opener "Seasons."
We go from this on "This Time":
When all is said and done
I'll always be your son
But all is not forgiven
Well I'm on my knees pleading
Just 'cause I'm grown you think I don't need
Much more than what you've ever given me
So when we gonna get together
Seems there's no time for me
You act like you got forever
You've got time
But you ain't got time for me
To this on "Seasons":
Too busy running on fuel/Thank God you made it through
Let's spend the times we've missed and turn these days to gold
Lost as father and son
Bring us back together as one
As far the music goes, it's an epic bang and wailer which, yeah, could definitely be half as long, but is nonetheless a perfect introduction to the best of what the album has to offer.
3. “Bad Seed”
A half dozen metallic hardcore riffs thrown at the wall in a really endearing and exciting way encasing a ethereal, heart-rending breakdown that really shows Caputo’s potential and where it would soon take the band.
2. “Through and Through”
What a deliciously weird jam -- the jazz-into-chugga-chugga intro, clean back up vox, and Sick of it All-meets-Sabbath bob and weave is some next level no other NYHC band was even considering at the time. Groundbreaking for ever second of its three minutes and change.
1. "River Runs Red"
This is one of the greats, for sure. The shortest, tightest song on River Runs Red, is a vivifying, fist-pumping anthem full of unadulterated pathos and vulnerability. The band knocks out a perfect verse, a perfect chorus, a badass breakdown, let's Caputo hold a few notes, and then takes a bow. If this was the only song Life of Agony ever wrote they would have easily justified whatever energy and lifeforce they dumped into the band. Happily, though, it was only the beginning of the story.
* That's right. Go fuck yourself.