LIFE OF AGONY – The River Runs Red In New Hampshire
May 2, 2023, a month ago
In 1982, New York Hardcore was officially put on the global musical map with the release of the first Bad Brains album. Roughly a decade later, the scene took a major step forward in its sonic evolution thanks to a trio of genre-redefining recordings by three influential acts out of Brooklyn: Biohazard’s Urban Discipline (1992), Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses (1993) and Life Of Agony’s River Runs Red. Of those three, River Runs Red was the real surprise. Taking Black Sabbath’s eponymous album out of the equation, rarely has a debut album from an underground band resonated as quickly and as deeply. An album fueled by broken homes, damaged dreams and an undying desire to survive despite it all, River Runs Red stands as much more than a stellar addition to the New York Hardcore legacy; it remains a lifeline for a generation that found solace in its sounds when nothing else helped. Simply put, River Runs Red changed – and saved – lives.
Recently, Life Of Agony hit the road for a special tour to commemorate River Runs Red’s 30th anniversary. A lot has happened with (and to) the band over the years: Member changes (including a brief stint with Ugly Kid Joe’s Whitfield Crane at the mic), addiction, breakups, reformations and – perhaps most significantly – singer Keith Caputo’s transition to her true self, Mina. The Life Of Agony of today – Caputo, guitarist Joey Z, bassist Alan Robert and drummer Veronica Bellino – is a fierce, uncompromising force that has risen above obstacles that would kill most bands and still delivers the same power and catharsis that gave so many listeners a way out back in ’93.
Naturally, the band held nothing back at its recent stop at Wally’s in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. The sold-out crowd sang, moshed and felt every word as the quartet scorched through classics like “River Runs Red,” “This Time” and “Through And Through.” Anchored by Bellino’s exceptional drumming, the current incarnation of Life Of Agony easily reminds one of Jane’s Addiction live in ’91 – a groundbreaking band at the absolute peak of its powers. In an industry where few bands last 30 months, Life Of Agony is better than ever after 30 years – and hands down the best live band this writer has experienced in at least a decade.
Another New York mainstay, Sick Of It All, hit the Wally’s crowd with its brand of dependably tight, meat-and-potatoes Hardcore via a set comprised of key songs from its 36-year recording career. Representing the newer school, New York’s Coventry Carols got the show rolling with a brief set of intricate, Emo-tinged Post-Punk.
As someone who distinctly remembers a bunch of young kids called Life Of Agony circulating a demo tape called The Stain Remains back in 1991 – and as someone who caught his very first Sick Of It All show that same year – it’s inspiring to see both bands (and the genre they came from) hit middle age with such power and grace. Sick Of It All singer Lou Koller now belts it out with a touch of grey in his hair, while Mina can still own a crowd a few months shy of her 50th birthday. These people are survivors and living proof that New York Hardcore was, is and always will be the soundtrack of hope and victory against all odds.