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Album Review: Do Lacuna Coil Save Themselves on Black Anima?

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as much as it helped their commercial prospects, Ozzfest was the worst thing to happen to European metal bands in the early 2000s. While it was cool seeing bands like Meshuggah, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, and The Haunted play in front of huge crowds, the exposure to nu-metal and metalcore totally wrecked a bunch of their aesthetic sensibilities. Some recovered, some didn’t. Lacuna Coil were probably the hardest hit. 2002’s Comalies was a masterpiece of gothic metal that rightfully propelled them into stardom, with insanely catchy, ethereal guitar melodies and Cristina Scabbia’s emotive singing. By 2006’s Karmacode, however, they’d incorporated chugging guitars into their sound, and it’s all been downhill from there.

Black Anima is their ninth studio album. The production has gotten bigger, and male vocalist Andrea Ferro screams more, but it’s in line with the direction they’ve taken since Karmacode. While the subtle gothic beauty of their earlier work still resides deep within their songwriting, it gets drowned out by the very unsubtle nu-metal elements. That said, if you’re into the baggy-pants era of the band, there’s a lot to like here: big chunky riffs, overwhelming wall-of-sound mix, even some rapping. If you’re not into that, then don’t expect a return to form.

These songs have a lot going on, often to their detriment — they’re so busy as to be exhausting to your ears. Everything feels pushed into the red. Still, some of it hits. “Sword of Anger” uses a gothic doom riff to nice effect. “Apocalypse” feels the most like classic Lacuna Coil, even if the hook isn’t quite there. “Save Me” brings the melodrama. There are even some sections in “Layer of Time” that sound like Gojira. Unfortunately, they too frequently torpedo the good stuff with a drop-tuned riff or Ferro’s monochromatic vocals — considering how versatile Scabbia’s voice is, he’s always the weakest link in the vocal department.

Comalies was 17 years ago at this point, and it’d be folly not to expect a band to evolve. It’s also not entirely fair to judge a band based on what you want them to be versus what they are. Still, the endlessly frustrating thing about Lacuna Coil is that they don’t play to their own biggest strengths, like the beautiful melodies and Cristina Scabbia’s effervescent voice. Black Anima contains hooks and dynamic interplay and some really pretty guitar parts, but all that gets buried under crunching nu-metal riffs that were already old when Karmacode came out. It’s well-executed for what it is, which is a Slipknot album. Unfortunately, Slipknot already put out a better Slipknot album this year.

Lacuna Coil’s Black Anima comes out this Friday on Century Media. Listen to “Save Me” here and pre-order the album here. Get tickets to the band’s latest tour here.

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