It has been a while since Lacuna Coil last graced this website. Back in 2012, AMG [his review of this album is located after this one] reviewed Dark Adrenaline, and he was not gentle about their constant regurgitation of their lauded Comalies album from 2002. Two years later, so disgusted was he with their particular knack for wheel-spinning, he
threw with Aroldis-Chapman-like-force politely handed off Broken Crown Halo to me for review, and I was even less gentle. I, too, was fed up with yet another presentation of a beaten, long-dead horse. In that time, members came and went, and the core trio of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Marco Coti Zelati and vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro return with fresh new members and their ninth album, Black Anima.
And would you believe me if I told you that this is the heaviest album they’ve ever done? Would you also believe me if I told you that this album stands triumphantly alongside Comalies as one of their best? You probably don’t, having been hurt so many times before; but hear me out. After an introductory track, “Sword of Anger” kicks in with Andrea growling “We are the enemy!” with Maki and Diego Cavallotti going near-djent with his riffing on both guitar and bass, and newcomer Richard Meiz injecting some great double-bass and fills. As the song progresses, a little of the Comalies era creeps up, with Ferro and Scabbia counterbalancing each other. But most importantly, “Sword of Anger” is not only one of Lacuna Coil‘s best album openers to date, but the song presents a heavier, darker new chapter for Lacuna Coil.
Everyone involved with Black Anima brought their A-game, and man, does it show. A lot of the newfound heaviness comes from not only Coti-Zelati’s riffing, but also from Ferro. As a clean vocalist, he often lacks in range and power; as a growler, the man named Andrea throws down hard, as evidenced on “Sword of Anger” and the powerful title track, which closes out the album. Not to be outdone, Scabbia sounds terrific, providing phenomenal vocal hooks, like the chorus of “Reckless,” that stick in your head for days. Similarly, the solos that pepper Black Anima will perk the ear of many a guitar aficionado.1 Surprisingly excellent guitar solos elevate already great tracks like “Reckless” and album standout “Under the Surface.”
Black Anima is not perfect, of course. Lead-off track “Anima Nera,” while meant to be an introduction to set the tone of the album, feels like a throwaway Die Antwoord song, with Scabbia repeating the title ad nauseum. This could have been left off the album with no detriment. Also, some of the songs don’t quite land as well as the rest, with “Now or Never” and “Save Me” feeling a bit too comfortable and safe compared to the remainder of Black Anima. Even then, there’s nothing cringe-inducing or trend-hopping. And between the songwriting, an uncompromising-yet-not-painful production by Coti Zelati, amazing performances by every member of the band, and a newfound love of all things heavy have all left me wondering what the next Lacuna Coil album will bring, and I haven’t said that in a ridiculously long time. Now that they’ve dipped their toes in these particular waters, with their one-sheet explaining that they all love playing the heavier songs live anyways, there’s no going back.
And after hearing Black Anima for a week straight, I wouldn’t want them to. It doesn’t quite topple Comalies as their best album, but Black Anima is not only a logical progression from that landmark album, but it’s also a welcome, much-needed and much-appreciated breath of fresh air. Much like past bands that either deviated significantly from their past to return to great form (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride) or went from stagnation to achieve greater heights (Katatonia, Testament), Lacuna Coil dug deep and pulled out an absolute banger with Black Anima. Once I finish looking up the nutritional value of the baseball cap I just devoured, I’m going to spin it yet again out of sheer enjoyment.
By: Angry Metal Guy
In his 1848 tract Human, All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister), Fredrich Nietzsche wrote that “hope, in reality, is the worst of all evils for it prolongs the torment of man.” So many of the bands I enjoyed as a young metal fan have demonstrated time and again just how right Nietzsche was. While not the primary perpetrators of my torment,2 Lacuna Coil‘s path was one on which I could not accompany them. After starting with three albums that ranged between promising, but shaky (In a Reverie), enjoyable, but not-quite-there-yet (Unleashed Memories) and quite good (Comalies), these Italian groove-and-pop-maestros maximized their sound by doubling down on big, poppy choruses and eliminating the Paradise Lost meets Draconian vibe from the earliest material. More offensive, for me, was introducing production values stolen directly from Linkin Park. In particular, the early-2000s nü metal production smothered the material and despite sounding bad and, by 2012’s Dark Adrenaline very dated, Lacuna Coil had ridden it into the ground. By the time Delirium was released in 2016, we didn’t even bother to review it.
Yet, hope springs eternal and Black Anima is Lacuna Coil‘s best album.3 This record features the band living up to its great promise: tight, groovy, pop-metal tracks replete with stellar choruses, dynamic potential and head-bobbing riffs, tightly wound into a 45 minute package. With songs averaging at around 4 minutes long, Black Anima offers up a dynamic set of eleven songs, all of which feature the band playing at an absolutely high level. While it’s unclear if it’s is a concept album,4 it feels like one. Black Anima succeeds as a true album, meant to be listened to from front to back: each piece works together, showing the band assiduously crafting an album that flows perfectly, becoming more than the sum of its parts. And this is important, because Lacuna Coil‘s writing was never dynamic enough to hold my attention in the past. Comalies, which clocks in at an hour and is widely considered the band’s crowning achievement, has great tracks but was not an album I could listen to from start-to-finish. Black Anima, however, I can’t stop listening in the middle.
In addition to the band’s most mature and consistent songwriting to date, Black Anima is filled with new and old ideas that work. First and foremost, Andrea Ferro has reintroduced growls into his repertoire and he sounds fantastic. Furthermore, they make him a much more dynamic vocalist; complementing his cleans, which are still used harmonized with (or by) Cristina (the chorus on “Apocalypse,” or “The End Is All I Can See”). The real strength of his growls, though, is when they play off Cristina’s voice, creating the “beauty and the beast” contrasts that were so popular in the ’90s goth and doom scene and have since disappeared (“Veneficum” or “Black Anima”). For her part, Cristina has also expanded her range and approach. The album’s introduction “Anima Nera” establishes her working with a smaller, almost childlike voice, reminiscent of Kate Bush (and more recently in metal Diablo Swing Orchestra‘s phenomenal new singer Kristin Evegård). Cristina’s new vocal approach shows up throughout (the stellar chorus of “Reckless,” for example), but even more surprising for me was was her use of more operatic stylings in the intro to “Veneficum” to great effect. Black Anima even features good guitar solos (“Sword of Anger,” “Apocalypse,” or “Under the Surface”). Not exactly known for their guitar wizardry, Lacuna Coil seems to have spent the writing process of Black Anima thinking about challenging themselves.
The core of the band’s sound, of course, is still in tact. The record is filled with power chord driven choruses, where rhythm guitars and double kick match each other with chugging eighth notes (“Save Me,” “Under the Surface,” like… all the songs?). There are plenty of chuggy breakdowns where the band’s bass-and-drum-heavy sound causes involuntary head nodding. These are the places where it’s clear that the production has changed the presentation of their material. Tracks like “Layers of Time” are faster, sure, but with the old pseudo-nü-metal production, the slappiness of the bass and clickiness of the kick would have killed the sound. Instead, with Andrea’s roar, Cristina’s inventive melodies and the tight rhythm section of Marco Coti Zelati and new drummer Richard Meiz, “Layers of Time” is a forceful and interesting groove track. But even with the core sound is clearly unchanged on songs like “Apocalypse,” “Under the Surface” and “Save Me,” they are complemented and contrasted by tracks like “Now or Never” and “Reckless” and “Veneficum,” that see Lacuna Coil trying something else.
There are very few bands in my time as a music reviewer or fan that have undergone such an impressive rebirth as Lacuna Coil. And Black Anima successfully does two things simultaneously; it keeps what was good and it complements that core with new ideas. Black Anima preserves what Lacuna Coil has always done well by centering around strong choruses, vocal interplay, and groove. But this core is complemented with Andrea’s growls, Cristina’s new, more dynamic approach, and with a production that does the band justice. While there may be adjustments around the edges that I would make (less crushed, pl0x), Black Anima is a remarkable accomplishment from a band that had simply tormented me for the last decade. And now with renewed hope, I await what comes next.
- It’s unclear if Maki or Cavallotti handled the leads, but kudos to whoever put them down, as they’re phenomenal! ↩
- Here’s looking at you, In Flames. ↩
- And if hope springs eternal, by Nietzsche’s reckoning, so does suffering. My God that is the best quote of all time. ↩
- Cristina did say in an interview that the album would “revolve around a book.” ↩