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Lacuna Coil - 'Black Anima' Album Review


1. Anima Nera

2. Sword Of Anger

3. Reckless

4. Layers of Time

5. Apocalypse

6. Now Or Never

7. Under The Surface

8. Veneficium

9. The End Is All I Can See

10. Save Me

11. Black Anima

12. Black Feathers (Bonus)

13. Through The Flames (Bonus)

14. Black Dried Up Heart (Bonus)

When I first became aware of Lacuna Coil way back in the early years of the noughties, this was at the point where the ‘pretty-lady-and-hairy-shouty-bloke’ band format was being well and truly plundered by Evanescence, who were absolutely massive at the time. I had a bit of a problem with this though, because while I could understand the appeal of Evanescence, I found it difficult to get into them because I found them cheesier than a baked camembert and far too commercial for my liking. As a result of this, I quickly wrote Lacuna Coil off when I heard them because they appeared to be a band that followed exactly the same formula. In my defence it’s easy to see why I jumped to that conclusion; they slotted into the same ‘pretty-lady-and-hairy-shouty-bloke’ mould and at face value and to my untrained ears it could be said that they sounded and looked sort of similar, so I’d made up my mind, passed my judgement and wrote them off, never to listen to them again. ...Right?

...Well, no. Not quite. Not at all, actually. I remember the exact moment when it occurred to me that I’d been unfair to Lacuna Coil; I was commuting to work in 2016, listening to a Rock and Metal radio station through my headphones when I heard ‘The House Of Shame’ playing, which was their new release at the time. I’m pretty certain that hearing it must have gave the muscles in my face a workout as it caused them to stretch and contort into several expressions including shock, surprise and delight because it totally blew my socks off. I vowed at that very moment to listen to their new album ‘Delirium’ and to give their back-catalogue a thorough aural examination and found myself humbled by the fact that ‘Delirium’, their new album, was indeed awesome. In fact, I liked it so much that it actually actually turned out to be one of my favourite releases of that year.

Before I plunge onwards with my review of their new album, however, I should probably usher those of you who are new to Lacuna Coil to the front, get you settled into some comfy chairs and give them an introduction. The band comprises of Richard Meiz on drums, Diego Cavalotti on guitars, Marco Coti Zelati on bass, keyboards and guitars and the vocal duties are provided by Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia. If you’re looking at their names and are getting the inkling that they’re of a distinctly Mediterranean flavour, you’d be absolutely correct - the band hails from the beautiful city of Milan, Italy and are celebrated as one of the country’s most popular acts.

When I loaded up their new album and heard the track ‘Anima Nera’ for the first time, I had to check that I was actually listening to the correct album, for it starts really quietly, with little more than the sound of a muted but distorted electric piano. The vocals begin, clear and front and centre in the mix, but it doesn’t sound like it’s Cristina Scabbia singing as the voice is breathy and sugary-sweet sounding. The lyrical content runs against the grain of the voice's timbre, with lines like “The walls inside the room are closing in / I cannot see a door / A little sparkle of light / I cannot see any hope I wonder is it all my fault?”, it’s pretty dark stuff. Towards the end of the track, the instrumentation becomes increasingly haunting and the saccharine voice gives signs of it actually belonging to Scabbia as it takes on a slightly menacing tone, breaking into Italian with “Cosa ne rimane della mia anima nera?” (what remains of my black soul?), which is repeated several times before the track dives back into its dark instrumentation for a few moments before ending as it started. It’s an incredibly atmospheric track that serves as a dark and quieter-than-expected opener to the album.

If you know anything about Lacuna Coil, it should probably come as no surprise when the next track ‘Sword Of Anger’ opens up with Andrea Ferro screaming ‘We are the anima” before the band unleashes a blistering opening salvo, with Meiz double-kicking and Cavalotti and Zelati chugging out a grin-inducing djent riff. After that, it changes down into a more sedate pace and for the first few seconds of the track its Ferro that takes the lead on the vocals - he’s got a great, throaty roar which always reminds me of Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell, and it really blends well with the band’s chugging guitars. It's not until Scabbia’s vocals slide smoothly in behind Ferro's that their sound really ‘clicks’ and sets them apart, though - her vocals seem to improve by leaps and bounds with each of their releases, and I think that she’s actually improved upon them yet again on this new one, which is really rather impressive. I don't think they could've chosen a better track to start the album with; it’s got a big, catchy chorus to get your teeth into and some great and inventive, if somewhat ambiguous, lyrics such as “Still running alone / With no interest in what you say / To free ourselves from the boundaries / Let's breathe reeling into the darkness”, which actually add to the overall ambience of it all.

Opening with a painful noise that reminds me of the last time I visited the dentist, ‘Reckless’ bursts into a big beast of a riff that’s impossible not to nod your head along to, before Scabbia’s gorgeous vocals swim through the noise with lyrics such as “Things won't be slowing down / I'm high enough on bitterness / The fire fills my eyes / I have never learnt to compromise / I need to feel alive”, giving the track a sumptuous and moody atmosphere. It’s brilliantly varied too, with a soaring guitar solo from Cavalotti leading into a quiet electronic section which builds and builds before bursting once more into the band’s distinctive metal chug. Special mention has to be made of its chorus, in which Scabbia hits some impressively high notes, which cause the song to really grow a set of wings and soar; it’s easily one of the strongest tracks on the album.

The sound of a slowly ticking clock fills the room as ‘Layers Of Time’ counts down to a frenzy of riffage, with Meiz providing the backbone to the guitars with his accurate and dynamic drumming. After that, it swerves into a thrashy section with Ferro proving some big shouty vocals before crashing into a big, brash Djent riff that threatens to tear your face off, and from there it segways into the chorus, where things are briefly thrown down a gear to allow Scabbia to weave her gorgeous vocals into the proceedings. It doesn’t lose any momentum though; it jumps straight back into another thrashy bit with more Djent riffing and raspy Ferro vocals. The best bit of the track comes in its third quarter, where Scabbia sings in an almost-operatic style over some furious riffage and blast-beats with the emotive lyrics “Twisting / Turning / Through the baptism of fire / Burning / Angels / Falling / Through the spiral of time” while Ferro roars in the background. Somewhat unexpectedly, the track dissolves into a beautiful moment of serenity in its final quarter where, aided by some lush-sounding strings, her vocals take centre stage to stunning effect. After that, it bursts back into life for a final hurrah of furious riffage and cements it’s place as yet another stoater of a track.

'Apocalypse', the following track, starts with soft synths and acapella tones from Ferro and sounds like it’s going to be one of the album’s quieter songs, but it blasts into a chunky riff and goes straight into the first verse in which we hear Scabbia's silken voice bringing a soft and elegant contrast to the buzzsaw guitars. There’s a slight tinge of this track being the ‘obvious single’ from the album, but that’s no bad thing as it really showcases what the band are capable of. There’s an absolutely amazing guitar solo buried in its third quarter which reminds me a tiny bit of one of the solos on Ghost's 'Meliora' album (which is definitely a good thing) and aptly demonstrates Cavalotti’s clearly awesome axe skills. Scabbia really excels in her vocals on this track too, with her sounding stronger and more confident than ever before and it really ties the whole band’s sound together with a big, glossy black bow.

With muted strings that sound like they’re being played through an antique gramophone, it doesn’t take long for the opening of ‘Now Or Never’ to detonate the gramophone into a million pieces as Ferro screams “Walk me out of here” as Meiz, Cavalotti & Zelati form a riff that’s irresistibly heavy. Ferro takes the reins on the lead vocals for the first few seconds before Scabbia’s vocals come to the fore, and this is the format that the song takes for the majority of its time before, in an unusual turn, Scabbia does something at the half-way point in the track that almost sounds like screaming - something that I don’t think she’s done before. Despite this, it’s actually not one of the album’s stronger tracks as it feels a tad generic. ‘Under The Surface’ is up next however, and you’ll be glad to hear that it’s a bit of a monster. It surges straight into a slow beat which is augmented with an Industrial-Electric noise before throwing the gear lever up several notches and bursting into a thrashy sprint which sounds bloody terrific, and then throwing it back down again, with Meiz throwing in the odd blast-beat to keeping things interesting in the drum department. It’s a good’un!

With an operatic intro, you get the impression right from the start that ‘Veneficium’ is going to be something rather special. Its opening lyrics are sung in Latin (“Nova vis ad Diem novum nascitur penitus veneficium versatum revincitur”) which sounds really cool, but I’ve no idea what the heck Cristina is saying because I can’t get Google to translate it. After that, we get a longer-than-usual slice of Ferro singing rather than roaring before Scabbia makes her entrance onto the track, her voice in a lower key and sounding absolutely wonderful. It’s a fabulous track and is topped-off with a big tasty treat of a solo from Cavalotti. Nom! Up next is another one of my favourite tracks on the album, ‘The End Is All I Can See’, which is actually one of the slower tracks on the album. It starts with a mesmerising electric buzz which forms the basis of the track’s ambience and builds to the point where it develops an almost transcendent nature. The guitars in particular sound amazing as they’re played in synergy with the pulsing Industrial drone and weave and phase around it to create something that sounds utterly delicious. As ever, the vocals are perfectly delivered by Ferro and Scabbia, with the latter of the duo singing a melody that’s dripping with eastern promise and is as glossy and perfect as anything you can imagine. The serenity generated by it is broken by the twanging intro of ‘Save Me’ though, which bursts into something that almost sounds commercial before Cavalotti and Zelati strum their strings to remind you that Lacuna Coil are a band who are absolutely not about to sell-out and turn poppy. The track sounds great and has a great big hook in its chorus that gets lodged into my cranium.

Roll up, roll up, it's title track time! ‘Black Anima’ begins with an unsettling sounding electronic buzz which parts way as Scabbia begins her vocals, which are punctuated by huge-sounding drum skelps. I love her opening lyrics; “The calm before the storm / Clouds are moving in anticipation / I'm longing for the rain to wash it all away / Slowly I am losing control / What's on the other side of the clouds?”, as they imply that this song is going to rock you like an earthquake. Rather curiously, however, the track feels a little like it’s being held-back and never quite transforms into the violent maelstrom of riffage that seems portentous at its start - but considering its subject matter, it’s very likely that this could be intentional.

If you got the 'normal' release of the album, prepare to cry because 'Black Feathers' marks the first of three bonus tracks on the version of it that I'm listening to. It opens with a distorted, sonorous electronic noise before a monolithic slab of buzzsaw guitars hits your ears like a sledgehammer. It sounds absolutely bloody massive, and kicks off properly with Ferro doing the first couple of verses in a more frantic sounding roar than usual, with lyrics such as “I can't believe that she's not real / She's all I ever wanted / No one can hear the whispering / She keeps on drifting away”, it’s difficult to grasp the subject of the song - but there’s no doubt that it all sounds very nice. Scabbia has a smaller role on this song, as she mostly sticks to singing in the chorus and a repeated section of lyrics towards its end, but it’s a big, brassy tart of a track. Things take a very different, and much quieter, turn as the next track ‘Black Dried Up Heart’ makes its entrance with the soft tinkling electric piano - it doesn’t stay that way of course as it detonates into another wall of noise with Ferro and Scabbia screaming “I choke / Suffocate / I don't want to live like this / There's no air left to breathe / There's no fight left in me” along to a beastly riff. There’s a section after that in which Ferro adopts a lower tone than usual to his roar which unfortunately sounds a little comical, but it’s well and truly redeemed by the fantastic melodies that Scabbia sings afterwards with solid drumming from Meiz and pummelling riffage from Cavalotti and Zelati.

Bringing up the rear, a twanging guitar marks the beginning of “Through The Flames” before the song swings into a pendulously slow beat and restrained riffing. This is actually a much slower track to everything else on the album, with the band adopting a more conventional ballad-esque approach to things. For the last track on the album, it’s got some very fitting lyrics, with Scabbia singing “Face me / I need you to understand / Lit the flame / And let this be the end / Consume me / But I will not repent”. It’s a really nice track with a fantastic guitar solo from Cavalotti and some really nice soaring melodies, making it a fitting, if a little dirgey, end to the album.

And so it ends, and leaves my ears happy. ‘Black Anima’ is packed with stacks of big filthy riffs, incredible technical Metal drumming and impeccably delivered vocals from duelling vocalists Ferro and Scabbia, with the latter of the two proving that her talents are improving with each album release. The album is however not without its flaws because, as is the case with most albums, it peaks and troughs a few times during its 58 minute playthrough. There’s nothing to worry too much about this though, because the troughs are caused by a small amount of tracks which are rather pedestrian and by the numbers rather than actually being bad. The peaks on the album are however many, and there are a few moments on it that come very close to greatness and will have all but the most elite Metalheads gently moshing their head along in attestment of this.

One thing that becomes very clear after hearing this album a few times is that Lacuna Coil are a band who are at the very top of their game. There’s something really special about the way in which they have crafted their sound because there are so many bands that inhabit the ‘pretty-lady-and-hairy-shouty-bloke’ genre that take the whole ‘Gothic’ thing and run with it to the point where they just end up sounding cheesy. Lacuna Coil have somehow managed to cherry-pick the best bits out of the Goth basket and balance it with Metal sensibilities and remain classy about it, which is really rather special. This classiness is all over ‘Black Anima’ and within it they prove once again why they’re considered one of the best bands of the subgenre.

Summing up, I’d say that if you’re already a fan of Lacuna Coil or are a fan of Nightwish or Evanescence (or other bands which fit into a similar mould), there’s little doubt in my head that you’ll absolutely love this album as its got just enough hooks, darkly brooding lyrics and symbology to provide you with a distinctively Gothic buzz that’s wrapped around a beating heart of pure Metal.

Review - Craig Henderson

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