Life Of Agony may have always been associated with the New York hardcore scene but their brand of emotionally charged music (no, not “emo”!) was always far bigger, bolder and brasher than that tag might imply. On Broken Valley – their first album for eight years after splitting up in the late ’90s – the break with that label is complete but their ability to create cracking, aggressive tunes has not diminished one iota.
In fact, it’s pretty difficult to fault Broken Valley, particularly if you appreciate the obvious musical reference points that are displayed here. Last Cigarette, for instance, sounds like a slightly punkier version of Velvet Revolver, and is pretty wonderful for it.
Don’t Bother, meanwhile, sounds like Velvet Revolver’s Weiland fronting a band playing deep, grungey Soundgarden riffs. Hang on, that makes it Stone Temple Pilots, doesn’t it? Ditto Day He Died. Whatever, who’s complaining when the groove and the choruses are this memorable? Elsewhere, there are shades of The Smashing Pumpkins in the staccato dynamics of Justified, while vocalist Keith Caputo’s solo career rears its more reserved, vulnerable head in No One Survives and Day He Died.
As ever, Caputo has a way with words that anyone who has ever grappled with despair and self-loathing will be able to relate to, though not in a nihilistic “middle finger to the world” or overly self-pitying way. When he sings, “Willing to comprehend / Willing to give up all my pride / Willing to forget but still so dead / And it’s starting to take its toll,” in opener Love To Let You Down, the hole-hearted amongst us can nod our heads in weary empathy.
Not that Caputo’s voice and lyrics are Life Of Agony’s only strong suit. Joey Z’s guitar sounds are still strident, while the rhythm section of Alan Robert and Sal Abruscato is more than simply solid. And as if to prove the point, closing track Room 244 is a two and a half-minute instrumental that is more Black Sabbath than most stoner bands manage in a lifetime.
It’s fair to say that hardly anyone could have expected a comeback as strong as this from the cult Brooklyners. Life Of Agony? Rarely did pain sound this pleasurable.