Life of Agony pioneered the high-volume broken-home ballad. These days, many hard-hitting groups boast singers who croon while their compositions burn, but on 1993's River Runs Red and 1995's Ugly, Keith Caputo's operatic anguish made him a total freak in the grunt-dominated hardcore scene. Troubled teens tethered themselves to these albums, which examined suicidal characters and fractured families in uncomfortably intimate detail. Life of Agony cracked nary a smile, even during Ugly's baroque version of Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)," so it boded ill when sneering smartass Whitfield Crane replaced Caputo in 1999. Also, the phrase "now featuring the former frontman of Ugly Kid Joe" does little to enhance a band's rep as Bronx badasses. The group ditched that damning disclaimer when its very own Gary Cherone split after a few stage shows.
This May, LOA returns with Broken Valley, its major-label debut and its first original-lineup release in a decade. Caputo draws upon his father's 2002 drug-overdose death, bringing intense emotional authority to his trademark first-person delivery. Some old-school types might have moved on, but Broken Valley's aggressive angst-driven anthems will attract eager audiences, even if young listeners erroneously see Life of Agony as a train-hopper rather than a trailblazer.