Review: The Sound of Scars

Directed by Leigh Brooks, the story of three lifelong friends who overcame domestic violence, substance abuse and depression to form Life of Agony, one of the most influential bands in its genre, led by the very first openly transgender singer. Through the success of their ground-breaking 1993 debut “River Runs Red” they channelled their cumulative life stories into a soundtrack for a broken generation.

One of the key things to know going into The Sound of Scars is that you don’t need to be a fan of the band or metal to enjoy it. At its heart, it’s a story about family, exploring the good and the bad, and how those experiences shape our entire lives. In that respect, it’s an interesting and touching portrayal of trauma, its long lasting impact and the importance of those who see you through it. However, all the different aspects of the film don’t feel as though they’re working as one, instead it comes across divided. It moves between that family history, the journey of the band and of lead singer Mina Caputo’s transition; sadly it’s just too much to fit into the one film and still retain a strong focus.

The struggle is that initially it frames itself very much to be the story of how Caputo became a trailblazer for trans musicians, which is enough to fill a whole feature by itself. It’s slightly disappointing that it then moves on and just peppers that vein throughout. There’s a huge discussion to be had about the strength to put yourself out there as an openly trans woman when you’re walking into a traditionally severe, masculine and aggressive environment. The tone moves back and forth on whether or not it’s trying to tell this story from her perspective, it would have been great to keep a consistency.

Nevertheless, the band are an interesting group of people and their stories are more than worth telling. There’s a hugely prominent theme of learning not only from your past mistakes but those of your family. It’s also a good example of making healthy decisions, trying to step away if that’s what you need, even if it may sacrifice success. It’s a surprisingly wholesome tone despite being in the context of heavy metal, drugs and violence; Leigh Brooks did well to capture a more rounded view of the band. It’s an aspect that’s undeniably helped by the openness of everyone interviewed, they let themselves be admirably vulnerable here.

The Sound of Scars tells a compelling story of how growing up in a tumultuous household sets a path for you. It delves into trauma and mental health, relationships and family, it’s another example of how music helped someone express themselves and forge a better, healthier future, even if they hit a few bumps along the way. It’s touching to hear how Mina Caputo handled her transition and getting back onto the stage, it’s just a shame there isn’t the space here to fully dedicate itself to her story. There’s a lot of ground to cover with this documentary and not enough time to do it, it ultimately needed to direct its focus more strongly to do its story justice.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022 –
Available now on cable VOD & digital in the US

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