The 2003 reunion of Keith Caputo, Joey Z., Alan Robert, and Sal Abruscato -- together, the classic Life of Agony lineup -- was captured on the rousing, often explosive River Runs Again, and fans ate it up because everyone still remembered how powerful River Runs Red was. But the reunion also spawned Broken Valley, and this album might be the real gift. It nods to the band's visceral hybrid of metal and New York hardcore, but manages to be modern, more melodic, and more adventurous at the same time. "Love to Let You Down" and "Last Cigarette" are great openers, gravelly rockers infused with a wide-open hooky zing. "Strung Out" trudges along slowly, deliberately, lending real gravity to the anguish in Caputo's delivery, and Z.'s guitar on "Calm That Disturbs You" howls with a sound as huge as New York City. Broken Valley is by far Life of Agony's most accessible album. But it doesn't sacrifice sludge, lyrical violence, or bottom-end power to be that popular record. That kind of sacrifice is what neutered 1997's Soul Searching Sun -- LOA wanted so badly to be heard that they cut out what made people listen in the first place. On Valley there's a durable melody in every song, and Caputo has never sounded better. He's also aided throughout by layered harmonies. But there's an unfakeable bareness to the lyrics that proves there's no pose here, no place for opportunism. (The rabid "Junk Sick" is exhibit A.) Broken Valley isn't a cash-in, it's a catharsis. Alongside its heavier moments are some dramatic detours. The terrific title track is a barren mood piece suggestive of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," while the brief "No One Survives" lingers on solitary piano chords. Life of Agony haven't just returned with Broken Valley. They've made a nuanced, well-balanced record that means something in relation to contemporary metal, a genre with issues to say the least. Life of Agony is how metal gets done.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus