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Life Of Agony - Ugly review


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Band: Life Of Agony
Album: Ugly
Release date: 1995

01. Seasons
02. I Regret
03. Lost At 22
04. Other Side Of The River
05. Let's Pretend
06. Ugly
07. Drained
08. How It Would Be
09. Unstable
10. Damned If I Do
11. Fears
12. Don't You (Forget About Me)

Two sides to every coin.

Taking the grunge sound and mixing it in with alternative metal, Life Of Agony veer off the hardcore path and appeal to the Helmet/L7 crowd on their sophomore album Ugly. While the album is somewhat simplistic in style, the nihilistic and emotional weight of the songs tied with the change in style will challenge you as a listener.

Embracing droning melancholic sounds mixed with the occasional tip of the hat to their hardcore ties of the past, Ugly is an album that will either hit you in the sweet spot or come off as a slap in the face. It is a very divisive album, and I can see why some people will see nothing good in this album; given the band deal in shades of grey in terms of differentiation rather than black and white, if you dislike one track you are unlikely to find the subtle differences track to track to be what you are looking for. If you do find yourself a fan of the first few tracks, chances are you will probably enjoy the record as a whole.

I would recommend trying "Let's Pretend" and "Lost At 22" first. If you enjoy those two tracks then you should move onto the rest of the album; if those songs don't click with you I would proceed with caution if not outright stop there. Those two songs best represent the sound of the album so I doubt there will be much else there for you.

Admittedly when I first heard this album I wasn't overly impressed; I found it to be slow and monotonous with only brief moments of respite (such as the fast paced sections in the title track) as islands in a sea of blandness. However after listening to "Let's Pretend" closely, I began to realize the album was best enjoyed when understanding it as a soundtrack to adolescent issues and that the music provided the backdrop to this. Once I fell into that mindset Ugly took on a whole new life for me.

Holy crap this album deals with some deep and dark topics; from the sense of alienation and self loathing of "Ugly" to the death of a parent in "How It Would Be", it is not good time music at all, but either a vantage point or mirror for the listener as the album plays out. It is when you digest the lyrics and topics that you realize the slow and understated musical backing is the ideal soundtrack for such deep topics; the faster, more in your face sound of Rivers Run Red would not have fitted in with the themes the band were evidently aiming at.

What Life Of Agony do have that sets them apart from many others is the voice of Caputo; her blues-soaked croons leave the album dripping with emotion that makes the sonic aesthetic work and make sense. Not only does she sublimely sings the lyrics, but she also brings them to life, and blends the work of singer and pseudo narrator into one role that is done to perfection. Able to project power and weakness at the same time, Caputo arguably puts in her best performance here.

That isn't to say the album doesn't have its flaws; however strong an idea Ugly serves to be, there are flaws in its execution that hinder its overall impact. As mentioned before, the band deal mostly in shades of grey rather than big levels of sonic differentiation, and while that works in limited doses, if you listen to the album as a whole you will find yourself flagging and losing interest towards the end of the record, ironically around the time the album shows some level of stylistic shifting beginning with "Damned If I Do". As a result, it is an album best heard in parts rather than played in one go, requiring a mental break before carrying on; while no particular song can be said to be the final straw, I find by the time I get around "How Would It Be"/"Unstable" that I start losing interest and have to turn it off.

"Don't You (Forget About Me)", however, is an out-and-out awful track, with only the chorus serving as any kind of bright spot on an otherwise poor cover. I will give the band credit for trying to put an original slant on it, but they do so by draining the song of all energy in its verses before sputtering to life in the chorus and towards the end of the song; at that point, the damage is done and this is just a limitation exercise.

One thing Ugly does lack is any memorable guitar work by Joey Z; his contribution is to give each track a different version of rhythmic mid-paced chug with the occasional solo or hardcore part. Take Prong or Helmet from around this time; both played with a roughly similar stripped-down and rhythmically focused style, but managed to make memorable and interesting parts, while Life Of Agony just plays out generic and bland parts that only work in the context of the song, and even then it's only tolerable.

Ugly will either be a great or horrible listen depending on how you approach it; if you take it as just another album prima facie then it will smash you in the face as it flies over your head. In contrast, if you are able to give it time and delve into it, you will find an album that is dark, encompassing and enthralling.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 8

Written on 02.09.2020 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.

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