The Sound of Scars
(Mina Caputo, Alan Robert, Joey Zampella, et. Al | NR | 1 hr 30 min | Bellino, Caputo, Robert, Zampella, Cinedigm)
Overview: A riveting documentary delves deep inside the 30-year career of metal band Life of Agony. Beyond the stage is a world fraught with pain, and music is the only remedy.
Verdict: Within the hardcore metal scene, Life of Agony is a household name. Outside of the hardcore metal scene, folks might be less familiar. Thanks to director Leigh Brooks, non-metal heads have a new way of finding out about Life of Agony: The fabulous new documentary, The Sound of Scars.
A product of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Life of Agony is currently comprised of Mina Caputo (lead vocals), Alan Robert (bass), and Monica Bellino (drums). Formed in 1989 by Caputo, Robert, and Joey Zampella, Life of Agony cut their teeth performing at small clubs, most notably, L’amour, selling it out completely within two years of their first show there.
The rough and rowdy crowds there responded well to their heavy tone and dark lyrics. But this documentary does something extraordinary and takes you deep inside the struggles that lent themselves to those lyrics. In the early days, Caputo, Robert, and Zampella turned to music as a form of escape from their abusive home lives.
Tumultuous home lives wasn’t the only struggle members of LOA had to contend with, though. The focal point of this documentary (intended or not) is Mina Caputo’s coming out— and subsequent journey — as transgender. When we first meet her, she is eleven years on hormone therapy and pursuing a complete transition. And it is Mina’s story overall that is both the most tragic and triumphant over the course of the 90 minutes.
While every member of the band fought intense battles with depression, hers are the most well-chronicled in the film, particularly as it relates to her parents’ addiction and her own gender dysphoria. Of the latter, she shares some private writings from back in the day, penned by one Keith Caputo, that detail the intense self-loathing: “My d**k is my lethal weapon…it’s my suicide…” Brutal.
If you’ve had the good fortune to so far live your whole life in a body that makes you feel comfortable, be glad. Because this kind of suffering — knowing you have an inner identity that does not match your outer identity seems to be a special sort of Hell.
These struggles simultaneously add and take away from the musical aspect of the documentary. Footage is shown of the band on tour in Europe, and playing the main stage at huge music festivals, but those parts seem few and far between compared to the time spent focusing on the members and their mental and emotional battles.
The best part of any concert documentary is performance footage, especially the grainy footage from bands’ early days, or takes inside the studio. There is precious little of that here, and that’s a shame.
A well-placed assessment of LOA’s overall musical style is the brightest of any even remotely tuneful moments: “They injected more melody into a genre that wasn’t too accepting.” And as a person who is less into metal music, the fact that Life of Agony’s music resembles melody in any way is a comfort.
But if some of the highest parts of this documentary is found in the music footage, the lowest parts are found in the talking head moments which, again, go back to the troubles the individual band members faced.
The contrast between shots of Mina performing hormone injections and her recollections of her parents as heroin addicts is jarring, but there is ultimately light to be found: The death of Mina’s father changed her perspective on life, including and especially the way in which she lives her own, pursuing her own truth: “I have the courage now to be hated and disliked.”
The second half of the documentary makes much of the eventual solace and solidarity that came for the members of LOA: Alan Robert, grounded by his family, is a successful comic book artist on the side, always and only writing lyrics to songs with Mina in mind to sing them. Joey Z reconciled with his own abusive father and speaks of making conscious changes. After a brief hiatus to deal with slay collective demons, Life of Agony is shown to be reborn, with Mina commenting, “We will make the myths together, now.”
That’s a lovely sentiment.
The final scenes are those of longtime LOA fans telling the band everything they and their music have meant over the years, some of which include sentiments like, “these guys saved my life.” And it goes to show that even a life of agony has moments of sweetness.
Review: Ashley J. Cicotte
The Sound of Scars is available to stream VOD, or via Prime Video or AppleTV+.