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Lacuna Coil – Black Anima Review

October 14, 2019 | Posted by David Hayter
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Lacuna Coil – Black Anima Review  

Lacuna Coil have reached their imperious peak. Having endured 25 years on the periphery of superstardom – often lurking in the shadows of bigger, zeitgeist grabbing outfits – the Italian gothic metallers finally have a clear path to the top of the bill. The past two decades have seen plenty of bands have fade view while Lacuna Coil have been steadily honing their craft, embracing arena-rocking American aesthetics and touring relentlessly. Having crawled and clawed their way up festival line-ups, the top of the totem pole is finally in sight for a band once considered followers, rather than trendsetters.

In many ways it’s quite funny, the Milanese rockers were far more distinct (and distinctly European) on their lauded 2002 breakthrough Comalies, but it was by blasting their way into the American market (and embracing the American aesthetic) that they finally achieved ubiquity. The bombastic and wilfully theatrical Delerium (2016) had Christina Scabbia and co. teetering on edge of topping the Billboard charts. The album would eventually land at No.2 and 4 in the Hard and regular Rock categories, respectively – which is no mean feat for an Italian outfit.

Lacuna Coil are on the verge, ready to breakthrough, no longer the bridesmaid, finally the blood caked bride. And lets face it, love them or hate them, Metal could use a new headliner. Next year’s Download Festival might look absolutely tremendous on paper, but KISS, Iron Maiden and System Of A Down hardly reflect well on the state of modern metal. The scene needs a band who can join Slipknot and the, just about hanging on, Avenged Sevenfold in breaking up the million dollar nostalgia party. Still, tenure is not enough, Lacuna Coil have to earn it.

It’s a credit to their artistry that the follow up to Delirium is not a rerun. The wilfully theatrical and carnival-esuqe flourishes have, by and large, been ditched in favor of both a more intimate and brutalistic approach. In a sense Lacuna Coil are going back to their roots by trying to write grand, introspective and cathartic works – but there’s a catch, they are clearly angling for arrangements stadium sized crowds will happily sing and bounce along to. Trying to serve both masters is a bold move, because nu-metal influenced guitar work and slick choruses are not a natural fit alongside soul searching lyrics, let alone macabre and remorseless pummelling instrumentals

Delirium was successful in tackling mental health issues, but it wore its pop gimmickry on its sleeve. Black Anima aims for bleak severity first, presuming the hits will take care of themselves. This is a refreshing approach for a band who have been known to undermine their weighty subject matter with an overly immediate approach. This time around, however, the band are free to stew, indulging in a tender and unadorned mood setting opener (“Anima Nera”) one moment, before unleashing a seething self-immolation the next (“The End Is All I See”).

The trouble lies in reconciling Lacuna Coil’s divergent impulses. When they have their foot down and really begin to pick up pace they are near unstoppable. “Under The Surface” is an instrumental stampede of bloody, thundering hoofs. Miraculously, Scabbia’s vocal manages to soar gracefully above the mayhem before a slick Arabic influenced guitar solo cleans up the track’s tail. Each element of the band’s sound, be it bombastic and brain-dead or considered and vulnerable, is represented as the raw pace of the music forces an unlikely fit.

Elsewhere the band are less cohesive. Scabbia offers a delightfully hypnotic and needling vocal on “Reckless”, but she’s forced to ride a choppy nu-metal barrage. She manages the feat gracefully enough, but is undermined Andrea Ferro’s juvenile and cringeworthy screams. There’s no two ways about it, her fellow vocalist is a complete marmite figure. Some will go wild for his nuance free approach, but he does have a horrible habit of ripping away any sensitivity or severity from the band’s music. “Now Or Never” is an interesting case study. Subtlety is entirely rejected as Ferro howls up a storm in a quasi-rapped verse. At times it verges on parody, but the percussion is so strong and the riff so relentless that Lacuna Coil just about get away with it, even if Scabbia’s venomous bridge feels a touch phoned in.

Still, it would be churlish to complain about Lacuna Coil’s sillier moments, because, in the midst of this bleak and pitiless pummelling, a dash of camp is more than welcome. “Veneficium”, Black Anima’s six-minute totem, is delightfully over the top. It’s operatic opening is farcical and the track never really looks back from there. Scabbia is full dark priestess mode, chewing the scenery as she broods before unleashing a liturgical wail. For all its wanton pomposity “Venficium” is a rather straightforward and harrowing tale of a woman who is driven to darkness (“I’m afraid to see what I became”) by a toxic and possibly violent relationship (“you’re a parasite, infecting me until the end”). The grandiose bigness of it all, coupled with a willingness to be ridiculous, carries the day – whereas the murkier and more subdued “The End Is All I Can See” feels mundane by way of comparison.

That’s not to say Lacuna Coil cannot master a more muted palette. “Save Me” is a straight-ahead rocker that allows Scabbia to stand front and center stage as she confront her insecurities. “I look in the mirror and hate what I see, I don’t recognise my face anymore”. Ferro is understated, adding a little growling heft to Scabbia’s chorus. The result is a pleasingly simple and heartfelt assault on insecurity (masquerading as a strangely addictive cry for help). “Black Anima” is a less satisfying follow up and a rather limp closer. It barracks the listener with its own unremitting loudness, obliterating all subtlety in its path. It’s certainly a crescendo, but not much of a song. “Layers Of Time” is far better, with Scabbia’s shrewd bridge and chorus offer reprieve from a wonderfully merciless onslaught of machine gun guitars, piston-powered percussion and deafening synths.

Lacuna Coil are a strange proposition in 2019. Ever since they embraced the groove-laden brutality of early-2000s American metal, the band have tip toed on precipice of both profound operatic beauty and brainless head banging braggadocio. If Andrea Ferro’s growling bombast floats your boat, then Black Anima will prove utterly essential. If not, this bleak and bruising collection will feel like a lost opportunity. Both silly and severe, Lacuna Coil are flirting with a dark, psychological epic, but they are constantly being dragged back towards a more generic form of blitzkrieg arena rock. Ultimately, the good far out ways the bad on this brutally heavy, six of one, half a dozen of the other collection.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Christina Scabbia takes an harrowingly introspective turn on Black Anima, an album that threatens to strip away the gimmicks and provide a brutal (albeit catchy) grope for profundity. Lacuna Coil can't quite manage it, as a sense of braindead bombast undermines their more severe and thoughtful ambitions. Still, Black Anima represents darker more serious formula that the Italian rockers may well perfect in time.

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Lacuna Coil, David Hayter