The Sound of Scars is the sixth full-length album in Life of Agony’s long and somewhat hectic career. Released on Napalm Records, it is their second venture with the label in the last two years. A band with the history of LOA is always going to catch the attention of heavy metal enthusiasts, that is if you have ever heard their debut album River Runs Red. Converging on elements of Type O Negative inspired gloom, New York City hardcore, and the groove metal scene emerging in the United States around the early 90s, Life of Agony captured a zeitgeist in heavy music that will never again be repeated. Perhaps that is why they have never tried to copy and paste the same formula from their timeless first LP, choosing instead to take chances with their creative vision.
The Sound of Scars has a little bit of everything. Long time fans are familiar with the band’s experimentation. If you stuck around through Ugly and Soul Searching Sun, then you know what to expect. Life of Agony has come back to the concept originally told in River Runs Red, but don’t think this is going to have the same hardcore sound from 1993. As much as I’d love to hear an explosive in your face return to songs like “Through In Through” and “Bad Seed”, it’s not happening but the main components are still there. Whether or not you like Life of Agony’s arc is a matter of taste, but I’d say it’s objectively evident the band has been able to mix their eclectic inspiration with an enduring attribute that has uplifted a diehard fan base for almost three decades. A band that can accomplish this when they’ve spent much of that time in absentia must be onto something.
Joey Z still has some of the tightest rhythms you’ll find anywhere, Mina maintains a powerful bluesy wail through which she drives the band’s harmonies forward, and Alan Robert just knows how to write a song on a visceral level. Those are the things that have not changed. The founding team of Alan Robert, Joey Z, and Mina Caputo have an excellent chemistry that consistently works. This album is also the first to feature Veronica Bellino on drums, after the departure of Sal Abruscato (A Pale Horse Named Death, Type O Negative) in 2017. Whether they’re writing hardcore inspired songs to turn a mosh pit inside out, or wallowing deep into the depths of emotional turmoil, Life of Agony can find a way to shine. With sound engineer mastermind Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Motorhead, Pantera, Soundgarden) helping them to create an atmosphere that sticks into your ears, The Sound of Scars has plenty of points in its favor.
“Lay Down” and “Scars” have traces of that old school style noticeable at different intersections. Like A Place Where There’s No More Pain, several songs have a 90s alternative rock sound to them, such as “Stone” and “Weight of the World.” I found myself at times reminded of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden when those thick sludge riffs were bouncing around against radiant soulful vocals. On the experimental side, this is probably their most diverse album since Soul Searching Sun, though they’re not necessarily completely comparable. The Sound of Scars is what Soul Searching Sun could have been with more focus. The new album is a hybrid of styles that borrow from different points across Life of Agony’s career.
As the sequel to River Runs Red, there are conceptual tracks throughout The Sound of Scars that take a deeply personal turn into the life of an anonymous man dealing with depression. In River Runs Red, the character’s break up with his girlfriend and a traumatic home life climaxed into the final track “Friday”, which ends with the character’s mother finding him in a bathtub with slit wrists. The Sound of Scars literally picks up where River Runs Red left off twenty-six years ago.
“Prelude” is the first track on The Sound of Scars, a conceptual track with the sound of water dripping in the very same tub. For years, I thought the guy was dead, but The Sound of Scars reveals otherwise; paramedics saved his life, and the tragic ending of River Runs Red takes a turn toward survival and renewal. On “Now,” the story leaps forward to the present. No longer a teenager, decades have passed and the character is a married man coming up on the anniversary of his suicide attempt. The story speaks for itself and words can’t do it justice. This is as real as it gets. “I Surrender,” the album’s closing track, is a brooding song preceded by an interlude called “When,” presenting a therapist urging the struggling character to overcome his demons and put away his old pain. The one-two punch is a fitting end to Life of Agony’s first and sixth chapters.
At the end of the day, maybe Life of Agony can be summarized for more than just a band with bombshell debut, but as artists who intercede upon despair with a pure creative will. They deserve a great deal of respect for expressing a brutally candid struggle with severe depression within the framework of hardcore music that oozes into contemporary experimental rock. If you consider River Runs Red is this band’s rite of passage, then The Sound of Scars might be its path to closure. Wherever the future leads for this Brooklyn based group, they’ve proven themselves capable of covering whichever grounds they wish while staying true to their own merits.
Favorite tracks: “Once Below”, “I Surrender”, “When”