Life of Agony/Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics/Blood Runs Deep – Birmingham, O2 Institute – 22 September 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Monday, 09 October 2017 09:18

New York has produced some of the most iconic and iconoclastic acts on the planet; The Ramones, Type O Negative, Unsane, The Beastie Boys… The list goes on. The late 80s/early 90s saw the rise of an act who would consistently reaffirm this tradition, Brooklyn’s exceptional Life of Agony. Inhabiting the ‘alt metal’ world long before it became a muddy term to describe post-grunge radio rock leaning bands, Life of Agony possessed a sound which could at any point break across the likes of hardcore or doom metal, tied in with an irrefutable sense of radio-friendly sensibility that endeared the band to mainstream and cult audiences alike.


Since reforming in 2014 the band have landed back onto the music scene with a splash, releasing the critically acclaimed ‘A Place Where There’s No More Painearlier this year and returning to the UK for a brief run of shows in 2016. Their first full UK tour in over a decade, these dates saw support from Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics and tonight’s openers, Blood Runs Deep. Arrival at the venue at 6pm (with an early finish set up to allow for a later club night) yields an enormous crowd waiting to get into the Institute. Whilst it’s clear that not all of it is for Life of Agony (with Bush playing the main room of the building and a sold-out show for Trash Boat upstairs, the woefully empty room for Blood Runs Deep is deeply disappointing.


Blood Runs Deep

It could be the miserable drizzle of the outside dampening spirits, or serious sound issues on-stage, but things just don’t seem to be going Blood Runs Deep’s way in Birmingham. While on paper their doom-laden rock should be exactly the kind of thing that LoA fans are clamouring for, the poor sound turns their set into an almost incomprehensible wall of bass and drums, vocals non-existent. The almost empty room seems to be the final nail in the coffin for the band, their set passing with literally no crowd interaction (on either side, admittedly), leaving things feeling a little hopeless before they leave the stage and putting some serious worries for the night ahead.


Follow-ups Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics quickly dispel these fears. Possessed of the kind of stage theatrics and posturing seldom found outside 80s stadium rock acts, The Cult Classics redress the balance almost immediately, working even harder on the slowly filling room to get everybody on board early on. It takes a special kind of frontman to wear a sparkling dinner jacket and not seem like an absolute cock, but Aaron pulls it off with aplomb, proving heavily photogenic as he pulls poses throughout the set.


Aaron Buchanan 2

Decidedly more upbeat in sound than Blood Runs Deep, The Cult Classics are arguably sonically ill-fitted to the darker tones of Life of Agony, but goddamn do they make it work for them. Somewhere between the big chorus sensibilities of American radio rock and the arena riffing of glam rock, the band are the perfect pick-me-up the crowd needs to get into the spirit for a night of great tunes, something which Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics offer in spades. Bolstered by Aaron’s onstage patter (which at times is reminiscent of Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell), the band blast through material from their debut album as well as an extremely pleasing ‘Them Bones’ cover which features the talented Mitchell Emms of The Treatment, putting on a performance which could very well worry a lesser headliner.


But, a lesser headliner Life of Agony ain’t. Armed with an arsenal of some of the best, hardest hitting underground metal tunes of the 90s and 00s, LoA aren’t fucking about as Mina Caputo and co. hit the stage with ‘River Runs Red’ and show they aren’t fucking about. Sounding utterly massive, the riffs soar high and the beatdowns lay the crowd low as the band hammer out a series of consecutive punches that leaves the eardrums reeling. Mina Caputo is singularly one of the best frontwomen in the rock and metal world, her voice spanning an incredible range that tears holes through the roof and inspires passionate singalongs from a dedicated hardcore fanbase.


Life Of Agony 3

It's not hard to see why LoA have inspired such a fervent following; Mina is quick to establish a connection with the crowd, frequently addressing them directly between songs and closing the gap between the stage and the audience by leaning across and getting right into the faces of those congregated at the barrier as she cracks jokes that betray the typical confrontational ‘fuck you’ humour of Brooklyn that made acts like Type O Negative so entertaining to see live.


A criminal underperformance in numbers means the room is only half filled for this date, but those in attendance make up for it by headbanging, shouting along and generally integrating themselves into the band’s show at every possible opportunity. Such passion is reflected in the pure energy created between band and crowd, songs like ‘This Time’ and ‘Love To Let You Down’ setting off small frenzies. Possessing one of the best ‘best ofs’ in the alt metal canon means that the band are able to pull out utterly enormous segments which embody some of the best riffs and choruses in the genre, the three-punch salvo of ‘Love To Let You Down’, ‘Lost at 22’ and ‘Weeds’ the kind of brilliance that makes you wish the band were hitting mainstage at a festival, just to watch riots ensue.


Life Of Agony 5

New material is decidedly (and almost disappointingly) light tonight, ‘World Gone Mad’ seemingly the only big hit from the latest album to make the cut. Still, with a back catalogue like this, it’s not like you’re going to go home disappointed, especially when the riffs kick in for the likes of ‘Other Side of The River’ or the Motorhead-ish ‘I Regret’ thundering along like a riff-powered freight train. While the set feels sadly shorter than it could have been, Life of Agony don’t waste a single second onstage, with the banter leaving the crowd grinning from ear to ear, the riffs setting bodies crashing and the thundering drum beats of Sal Abruscato getting heads banging at full force.


A disappointing turn-out for the band in spite of last year’s well received short tour and an even better received new album will surely put some dampeners on whether the band will be back over any time in the near future. At the same time, LoA have more than proven themselves as a band ready to overcome adversity and spit in the faces of the haters, so there’s every chance that even now, almost 30 years after forming, the band could claw their way back up as the lord(s) and lady of the alt metal world.


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