23rd October 2019
Review by: Beandog
Photography by: Graham Hilling
Musically speaking, my formative years undoubtedly occurred around the early nineties. It was a great time to be discovering bands. Musicians were drawing from a sweet well of influences and creating some of their most definitive records. Punk came together with classic rock and became grunge. Soundgarden hit their stride, Nirvana rose to super-stardom and Alice In Chains delivered their masterpiece.
Heavy music was on a upward trajectory. Faith No More released Angel Dust, Sepultura put out Chaos AD, Carcass delivered Heartwork, White Zombie were fusing heavy metal with disco-a-go-go and Nine Inch Nails took us on a Downward Spiral.
What seemed significant at the time was how bands were pulling their numerous influences together in a completely organic way. When Entombed put a little rock and roll into their death metal, it gave the genre an adrenaline boost. When Therapy? set their guitars to driving dance-floor rhythms, it was with complete respect to influences outside of rock music. It was a truly creative and inspired time. For better or worse, we all know how the story ended; bands began tripping over themselves to fuse ever more disparate sounds together. It inevitably became contrived and we ended up with nu-metal!
BUT… there was a brief period around ’91 – ’94 when this writer was enjoying a smorgasbord of new and exciting music. The energy in the scene was incredible. Fast forward to today and you may ask yourself why I am taking you on this personal trip down memory lane. The answer is simple. As I walk through the doors of the O2 Academy and into the main hall, the music that greets my ears as it plays out over the venue’s sound-system is firmly rooted in the era described above. A glance around the room, and I can see people of a similar vintage to my own, singing along and sharing their enthusiasm for riffs from that golden period. I feel the venue knows exactly who its audience is this evening, and that I am in good company.
In-keeping with all of the above, Life Of Agony’s debut album would have found its way into the CD and cassette players of tonight’s crowd around 1993. Merging the weight and grime of Black Sabbath with Brooklyn’s hardcore punk sound; River Runs Red is another example of different influences coming together to become something greater than the sum of its parts. The room filling up this evening is a testament not only to the appeal of that record, but also the enduring legacy Life Of Agony have built for themselves across several albums over the last quarter of a decade.
On the subject of influences – For this tour, Life Of Agony have paid respects to one of their own by bringing the ex-Misfits guitarist and his band, Doyle, out with them. Tellingly, an hour of so from now, in their own headlining set, Life Of Agony will tease us with a few bars of the Misfits between their own songs.
It’s a brief tribute and done with complete affection. It seems its a matter of personal satisfaction that the band were able to put together such a prestigious touring package. The crowd appear to share the excitement, and when Doyle takes the stage it’s to an enthusiastic cheer.
To see Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein up close is to witness something quite spectacular. The man is literally a larger than life,walking Halloween caricature. If Frankenstein’s Monster had learned to play the guitar, he would’ve cut a remarkably similar, imposing silhouette.
Joining him onstage is the tattooed Brandon Strate and Wade Murff on bass guitar and drums, respectively. Murff delivers an incredibly powerful performance from behind the drum kit. The experience of seeing him pummel out songs like Abominator and Beast Like Me is almost worth the price of admission alone!
Front and centre is Alex “Wolfman” Story, who is currently sharing his time between Doyle and his other punk project, Cancerslug.
Clearly in his element, Story is adorned with Misfits tattoos and possesses a voice not dissimilar to classic Glen Danzig. He roars out the verses while Von Frankenstein stomps in circles to his left, tearing out the guitar parts.
Story entertains the crowd by introducing each song in his Alabama drawl, using exactly the same description every time: “It’s sort of like a love song.” He says; “you can dance to it, if you like.” The crowd buy into the joke completely, cheering their appreciation, and to be fair, you could argue that tracks like Cemetery Sexxx and Kiss Me While I Die do imply an element of Gothic romance!
Doyle himself appears to be experiencing equipment problems onstage. From where I’m standing the sound isn’t affected, but there are some glances to the side of the stage and a bit of banter happening between the musician and his guitar tech that imply something isn’t working as it should.
The band doesn’t let this get in the way of a good performance and they plough on through the set, avoiding what would be an easy route of tearing through some classics from Misfit’s back catalogue.
Instead they peel out a barrage of their own whiplash punk tunes until things are brought to a sweaty conclusion. It’s a triumphant performance that ensures an upbeat mood for Life Of Agony’s arrival.
During a short break, equipment is changed over and drinks are refilled. The audience give the headliners a hero’s welcome. Tonight is the first night of the tour, and the band have a brand new album to celebrate. As they take their formation on stage – Mina Caputo up front, her cousin and guitarist, Joey Z, is stage left. Bass player Alan Robert standing on the opposite side, while high on a drum riser sits relative newcomer Veronica Bellino – it is with the confidence of a band who know they are on top of their game.
As if to prove this point, the band kick things off by launching into a brand new track. Scars is a hefty bounce built on a solid groove from Bellino and some staccato guitars that bring a band like Helmet to mind. Essentially it is the title track of the new album – The Sound Of Scars – and it does a great job of breaking the ice. Mina is in fine voice and when the song launches into its accelerated mid-section the crowd respond by pushing into music. Masterfully, Life Of Agony follow this up by segueing straight into the bruising fan favourite, River Runs Red.
This is enough to send the crowd into a full frenzy. It’s an early highlight that sets the energy bar high. The band acknowledge their fans’ enthusiasm for their earlier material and keep the focus on their debut album for this opening section of the set. Bad Seed is up next and it’s crushingly heavy.
Watching the crowd react to the music tonight is a pleasure. It dawns on me just how layered the Life Of Agony experience is. On the surface, there is the inevitable physical response to the weight of the music. Fans push, lurch and swing with each muscular riff as they come crashing down on top of them like hefty crowd-surfers.
The pit is a lively one. Early on it begins to spin itself into a ragged circle which continues to churn throughout the performance. It’s an intimidating demonstration of chest-beating bravado, driven by the “toughness” of the sound; but that is just half of the pie. There is another level of “heavy” that compliments the physical punch of the music. A yearning, sensitive ying that offsets the band’s red-blooded yang.
In Mina Caputo, the band have a lyricist who has always written with an open vulnerability. Tonight, songs like Other Side Of The River and My Mind Mind Is Dangerous are delivered with a raw honesty that has not diminished in the years since these songs were written. The crowd seem to connect to this emotional weight as much as they do with the crushing music.
During an energetic rendition of Weeds, one woman pushes her way to the front, throws her arms into the air and passionately sings the lyrics back at Mina. It is a moment that clearly demonstrates the importance of that particular song to that person. Mina locks her with eye contact and appreciates the gesture. “I love you,” she mouths.
It’s not all intense. Life Of Agony are clearly enjoying themselves too. Joey Z is all smiles as he playfully teases the singer for wearing a top that leaves little to the imagination. He introduces her by drawing attention to the fact (as if nobody had noticed) she has “her titties pointing right at’cha!”
There is a clear sense of fun weaved throughout the performance. When Veronica Bellino starts the percussive pulse of a new track – Eliminate, the crowd immediately picks up on its similarity to Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills and they begin to holler that song’s familiar refrain over the top of the music. The guitar player laughs and encourages everyone to continue while he tries to work out the riff.
It appears that everyone is having a good night. Mina takes time to acknowledge how proud she is of the band’s new album. She describes it as a “masterpiece” and encourages everyone, whether they buy it, stream it or steal it to “get it into their life, somehow.”
She also expresses her gratitude for the love and acceptance she is feeling in the room tonight. To put a spotlight on Mina Caputo as openly transgender does a disservice to the fact there isn’t a soul in this room who appears to have a problem with that… and nor should they. Instead, tonight feels like a celebration. A positive acknowledgement that the people in the room are accepting and supportive of variety in humanity. As Mina puts it; “you guys are the REAL punk rockers.”
Overall, the set draws heavily from the band’s earlier career and mixes this up with a generous number of brand new songs. From Ugly, Damned If I Do and Lost At 22, both make an appearance, while the reunion-era, Broken Valley is only briefly visited via the rousing Love To Let You Down.
Ultimately, the climactic songs all come from the bands debut. This Time, Underground and Through & Through all send the mosh pit into a final surge of chaos. Limbs flail, bodies spin and slam into the front rows who stand tight, hold their ground, and raise the horns.
At the end, as the band wave and exit the stage, all there is left to do is cheer out our appreciation and applaud what has been a phenomenal and thoroughly satisfying performance from everyone involved.
Life Of Agony Setlist
River Runs Red
Love To Let You Down
Other Side Of The River
Damned If I Do
Lost At 22
My Mind Is Dangerous
Method Of Groove
Through & Through