Album of the Year 2019: Life of Agony—The Sound of Scars

On October 11, seminal alt-metal act Life of Agony released their sixth album, The Sound of Scars (Napalm Records)—which has been named The Aquarian’s official “Album of the Year” for 2019. The release date held a special significance, as The Sound of Scars was set loose upon the world nearly 26 years to the day of the release of LOA’s debut, the timeless classic, River Runs Red. So, it is fitting that The Sound of Scars—the follow up to the band’s 2017 release, A Place Where There’s No More Pain—is a sequel to River Runs Red, picking up where that album’s narrative left off: a young man attempting suicide after the weight of the world becomes too unbearable for him to continue living.

A concept album in every sense possible, The Sound of Scars finds Life of Agony once again digging deep into the emotional, physical, and spiritual burden of life’s endless journey—emerging hard and heavy from the lineage of yesterday like a catapult into tomorrow with each emotionally hammering track. In other words, The Sound of Scars offers fresh perspective of the human condition without any trappings of a nostalgia trip.

“It doesn’t talk about the history of a band or, or you know, the feeling that everyone’s holding onto the past, or the past album,” lead singer Mina Caputo tells The Aquarian. “Because I get it—music is like the eternal fountain of youth. I get that shit. You know, I’ll throw on an album, and it’ll take me right back right to my bedroom, when I used to stare at Freddie Mercury, and sit really close to the speakers as a 10-year-old. I couldn’t understand how these songs were made. I couldn’t understand beautiful Robert Plant was as a man and how he had this voice. I was enthralled and completely mind blown. My mind was shattered as a child. I just didn’t understand how these bands, these groups, made these things that I’m holding in my hand that made this beautiful music which completely moves me. It was crazy. So I get the whole nostalgia thing, but we go so much beyond the nostalgic act.”

Life of Agony will be bringing The Sound of Scars to the Starland Ballroom on December 21, and throughout our entire thought-inspiring, candid conversation, Caputo’s kindness and unwavering spirit exudes an energy that is infectious and gratifying.

I think Life of Agony was so bold in doing a concept album, because a concept album almost necessitates the art of listening, right?

Yes, absolutely. Like, here’s the deal with us: We could give a fuck who’s doing what—and we were always like that. We were one of those bands, obviously, that grew up in the seventies and eighties and we love making records. We’re not interested in making some fucking Carvel-McDonald’s-fast food song that sounds like everything else on the radio… you know we’re more into the creative [process]. We’re like biologists, trying to discover a new strand of DNA….  I don’t know if it’s just us, but we kind of stand outside of everything, in a way. And I think the industry treats us like that, too. I think the industry doesn’t know where to put us or shove us, because we’re still against the grain and so outspoken. We’re not really politically correct, in a sense, or any of that kind of stuff, because we don’t believe in any of these institutions. You know, we don’t fulfill that matrix mentality that everyone is under. We’re kind of like standing outside of it all in a way. Which is cool, I think.

You need those kind of bands.

Yeah. And it’s great to work with people, like labels that absolutely respect your creative control and don’t want to interfere with that, and that’s what we got going on. I mean the owner of Napalm is a huge fucking fan, he loves the fucking band. And they don’t ask for anything. It’s complete trust. Now that we can be a band again, you’re listening to what we can really fucking do and what kind of records we can really make. 

So at what point, in your memory, did the idea of doing a sequel to River Runs Red first come about?

Well, Alan (Robert, bassist) had mentioned it to us. Since we made [changes in the band], we wanted to do some kind of full-circle thing. And, you know, with River Runs Red,we left the whole dialogue and the whole story up in the air. There was not any closure… and we just wanted to go into 2019 and 2020 with just joyful anticipation. We were tired of just butting heads constantly. You know, we couldn’t see eye to eye, and so we made changes, we all made changes, and we just felt like we wanted to put some closure [on that story]…. You know, we had that whole Doors mentality—one for all and all for one. And we just kind of wanted to close the book on that whole thing and finally put it to rest, and with that story, [it] seemed to be a really good time to do it.

LOA, 2019. Photos by Gino DePinto.

Was there any trepidation at all about writing another concept album, especially when considering the long lasting legacy of River Runs Red?

No, we don’t really trouble ourselves with things like that. Even if we do have some kind of doubt, we plow through it, anyway. You know, we’re not afraid to make mistakes or take chances as a band because that’s what it’s all about, right? You live and you die through it,  you’re making mistakes. It’s all about the journey. It took the band fucking 30 years to realize and appreciate that it is about the journey—and you know what? There is no destination. There is no final arrival as a band or an artist. One’s journey continuously goes up and down. So it’s all about the journey, man, and making the best moment and having the greatest time making the best music–the clearest music, which we can see as a collective organism.

The Aquarian did a preview of The Sound of Scars back in May, and one of the takeaways for me was the band was a bit frustrated over how [2017’s] A Place Where There’s No More Pain was written and recorded mainly over email exchanges and in separate locations. My question for you is, was the band hoping that doing a concept album would be a way of rallying everyone together in the same room and getting everyone on the same page mentally?

Well, it’s interesting that you say that, because we’d already wanted to exercise that idea before The Sound of Scars. Even just the idea of music and that we missed being a band. We missed writing music in the same room. We became estranged friends—not even. And the way we recorded A Place Where There’s No More Pain happened just like that. No one was bothering with one another. It wasn’t our idea of putting together a rock record that we can all enjoy…. Even though all the digital agents are there, I don’t want to sit at my fucking computer…. Let’s get into a room, let’s have fun. Let’s feel and let’s talk. And you know, we couldn’t do stuff like that… now we can actually finally sit in a room together like a fucking band.

When you’re like writing and recording a conceptual piece like this, how much – if at all – did you find yourself stepping into a role, almost like an actor would for a film?

Yeah, that’s a fun question. Everything I do is real, but there’s definitely a spirit…. It’s almost as if you put on some kind of spiritual coat in order to get the performances that I did for the album. Even to just write! Yeah, it does feel like acting, but not the bad acting. I prefer method acting, where you live the role of entire part in a sense. You know what I mean? Like Daniel Day Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix and all the crazy cats. That’s what we kind of do.

When you think about what a scar is, there’s obviously the literal sense of the word, which is a mark on the body. But the songs on the album go deeper into what a scar actually does to a person mentally, don’t they?

Yeah. When we talk about scars, we’re not talking about your new tattoo scar, or you know, your new bloody lip scar…. We’re talking about emotional scars. We’re talking about psychological scars. We’re talking about spiritual scars. We’re talking about a lineage of scars that our spirit takes on. So, who knows how long—thousands and thousands of years, right? Just think about how many bodies your spirit has lived in and can be…. That’s what I’m talking about. They’re life experiences and dramas and traumas that have been imprinted in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years as a species. People don’t listen and think about that, because people don’t think. People are thinking about the iPhone 20, or whatever one they’re up to now. I’m still on the 4S. So, people really don’t think.

It’s like a reflection on the cumulative effect of living.

Yeah, absolutely…. That’s what we were always trying to do, but I think now, we have a tighter grip on who we are now, who we are to ourselves, who we are to each other. Very open book. It’s a lot of fun there. We definitely are great spirits, man. We have a lot of things lined up. We’re having a lot of fun, man. 

You know, it makes me really happy to hear that, because the band has experienced a lot of starts and stops through the years. But now, with a consistent lineup and a record company that knows how to support you guys properly, it’s safe to say this new incarnation of Life of Agony is built to last for the long haul, right?

Yeah. You know, one never knows, but I have this instinctive, good feeling that I’m going to be making music for a long time. I honestly feel like I’m just getting started.