Released: 2006, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Lacuna Coil seems to be the talk of the heavy music industry these days and with good reason. Their third full-length album, 2002’s COMALIES, sold over 300,000 copies and is the biggest-selling title in Century Media Records’ history. The band also toured globally for over two years in support of the CD landing a second stage spot on 2004’s Ozzfest that saw them emerge as one of the tour’s “breakout” bands. So with all that hype staring the Italians dead in the face, they have some extremely big shoes to fill with their new CD, KARMACODE. Long-time producer, Waldemar Sorychta, has really given the album a fuller, bottom-heavy sound that when turned up can give the woofers a real workout. The vocals are crystal-clear and the keyboards accent an already rich aural tapestry that envelops the listener from start to finish. As vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro have stated in recent interviews, the influence of American metal has permeated the sound of KARMACODE and they weren’t kidding! The band has almost entirely tossed out the dark but listenable quasi-Goth sound that populated their pre-COMALIES albums, replacing it with easy-on-the-ear vocal melodies, chugging, downtuned guitars and more than a passing resemblance to the wildly-successful Evanescence. North American success is clearly the order of business here…and after toiling in the underground for nearly ten years, why shouldn’t Cristina strive to leave her bar-waitress position? The fundamental sound of the band remains—dual male/female vocalists that perfectly complement each other, slinky keyboard passages and rousing choruses—but KARMACODE sees it all wrapped up in a big, super-slick production with plenty of sub-four-minute radio-friendly singles (think “Heaven’s A Lie” and “Swamped”) to covet the “golden ticket” to the big leagues.
“Fragile” opens the CD with Scabbia’s trademark ethereal vocal flourishes before Ferro’s much-improved voice takes over the verses. An overt Middle Eastern vibe exists throughout KARMACODE and Scabbia’s vocals are the main proponent, often extolling in a soaring lilt or throaty chant and “Fragile” is the first example of this. The guitars are tuned down and a thick, chunky bass line rumbles over everything to create an almost funky groove. Great opener. “To The Edge” is an excellent follow-up with vocal harmonies that really shine and a hook-filled chorus that is destined for MTV success. “Our Truth,” a song already released on the UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION soundtrack, is equally catchy and listenable. Scabbia’s vocal talents are front and center here, with layer after layer of lush melody stacked on the chorus. “Within Me,” a Gothic power ballad, hearkens back to the band’s early days as Ferro and Scabbia create a vocal dynamic that is both powerful and ethereal at the same time. Scabbia really shows off on “You Create,” a short instrumental that continues the Eastern flair and puts the listener right in the heart of the sweltering desert sun, basking in Scabbia’s sublime vocal. “Closer” is a bouncy track with a strong keyboard presence and a chorus that just doesn’t stop. For all that track’s lightness, “In Visible Light,” comes across with the darker side of Lacuna Coil (“Grief is the light/I’m not afraid to deny”) but the chorus is still instantly memorable due to a bombastic swell of expansive vocals and keyboards. Despite its English title, “Without Fear” is a full-bodied ballad sung entirely in the band’s native Italian. The jury is still out on Lacuna Coil’s cover of the Depeche Mode classic, “Enjoy The Silence.” Scabbia lets loose with some vocal histrionics that are not bad and they surely reinvent this brooding Goth classic to make it their own but I’m just not certain this is the kind of reinvention that works.
While this is clearly the best-sounding album of Lacuna Coil’s career, it also suffers from a sheen so glossy that it gets bogged down by the whole production. Yes, Sorychta has captured the band in a very clean way but the bass-heavy production threatens to drown out the guitars in places which is a good thing if you are a hip-hop group but not so good if you are a rock/metal band. Also, the increased use of keyboards, especially on “Closer,” seems to take the place where a guitar seems more logical. Again, not a good thing for a rock/metal band. The most glaring “fault” (I place that word in quotes because of the subjectivity of it depending on your stance) is the Americanization of Lacuna Coil, which is never more prevalent than in the downtuned guitars on KARMACODE. At times, the riffs border on Korn-drenched, nu-metal (“What I See”) with start/stops and low-slung seven-string chugging (“The Game”) that are not kind to these ears. While never a challenging or overly musically-adept act save for Scabbia’s voice, Lacuna Coil was one of the first female-fronted Goth metal bands and to see them following in the footsteps of Evanescence, a band who blatantly copied Lacuna Coil’s style and dumbed it down for the masses, is disheartening. In a sense, you can’t blame Lacuna Coil for striving for commercial success and the almighty dollar. They have to eat too and surely don’t aspire to spend two years of their lives on tour only to end up broke and waiting tables again. At the same time, it’s always hard to let go of a band that you saw struggle from nothing, build a cult-following and nurture their sound over time (old-school Opeth and In Flames fans know what I’m talking about here) only to get sucked into the machine of the status quo. The hype alone could sink Lacuna Coil—bearing the weight of your record company’s fiscal year on your shoulders cannot be an easy task—and with Scabbia’s face all over magazine covers and another stint on Ozzfest, the pressure is on.
For all the fans Lacuna Coil loses as a result of this slicked-up offering, KARMACODE will surely draw in significantly more. This is a CD with a clear-cut purpose—market breakthrough—and all the elements are in place for that to happen: trendy guitar riffs, cleanly-sung, to the point songs and just the right amount of westernized polish to reel in the MTV crowd. Cristina Scabbia’s voice is captured in all its majestic glory and Andrea Ferro has made vast improvements in the vocal department, as well. The “nu-ness” of the guitars is certainly a sore spot but Lacuna Coil has shown they know how to pen a selection of accessible, hook-filled ditties that, while still plagued with the kind of bad poetry found in the diary of a stressed-out 14-year old girl, makes people bend an ear and take notice. KARMACODE is a superbly crafted album that was clearly tweaked to near-obsessive perfection in the studio but if that is a bad thing, most of the big rock albums of the past twenty years should be equally punished. Still, fans of that obscure little Goth metal band from Milan should relinquish themselves to the reality that gli uccelli hanno lasciato il nido: “the birds have left the nest.”
KILLER KUTS: “Fragile,” “To The Edge,” “Our Truth,” “Within Me,” “You Create,” “In Visible Light”