Reviewed: February 2020
Released: 2019, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
To many readers, and the many bitter artists whose work has been ripped apart by a cold-hearted, dead-inside cynic, a music critic is a bitter, twisted husk of something once-human that feeds on the maniacal pleasure of euthanising a body of work in writing. Now that isn’t entirely far-removed from the truth in a number of cases, but there lies a much deeper and more wholesome reason for doing this. Believe it or not, it is based on a love for music and wanting to hear more of it in its best forms (gasp!). Well, it starts like that and then countless years of disappointing releases and lost hours take their toll… At this point, all these poor subhumans can hope for is a surprise; a little ray of sunshine.
With characteristic tenuousness, we get to the bloody point: ‘Black Anima’ from Italians LACUNA COIL is just the sort of surprise that you hope for when the latest record gets hurled across the desk. A big slab of melodic metal that hits all those pressure points in the mind and ensures that it gets stuck in your head long after the album has finished playing (surgery may be required). There may have been some shuffling about in the camp since 2016’s ‘Delirium’, but it would seem that the band has either been able to weather the storm that it would have inevitably caused, or simply consumed and repurposed it.
Hope you brought your steak knives because ‘Black Anima’ has a helluva lot of beef to get your teeth into and chew over. But where you can get some terribly chewy cuts of bovine flesh, the group’s ninth effort remains remarkably digestible. You don’t get to twenty years as a band without knowing a thing or two about songwriting, and LACUNA COIL demonstrate that with aplomb throughout. Concise, focused and balanced, with the light of melody and dark of crunching riffs, it ably stands out as some of the band’s best work in their two-decade history. There is a touch of formula about the album’s eleven tracks (bar the oddly-placed but weirdly-compelling intro “Anima Nera”) that is sure to put off the basement-dwelling simpletons but, hey, it works!
A key feature of the band’s sound centres on vocalist Cristina Scabbia and her command of melody and range. Her soaring vocals and drawn-out melodies on “Layers Of Time” and “Now Or Never” add a particularly beautiful uplift to the song’s choruses, especially when contrasted with the rhythmic crunch of their respective verses and co-vocalist Andrea Ferro’s beastly growl. Yet there are moments of grandiosity in the operatic “Veneficium”, as well as the thoroughly excitable gymnastics of “Reckless” – just try and get that chorus out of your head.
It is not all Scabbia, though, as the band is a self-confessed collaborative effort and sound as tight as they ever have done. The djent-like guitar tone gives a decidedly modern edge to proceedings, with the PERIPHERY et al. influence creeping into some of the bouncier riffs, such as the pre-chorus hop of “Layers Of Time”. Yet the band’s rhythm sections deserves some plaudits, too, as the bass twang and tastefully-intricate drumming gives the record a pleasant sense of life about it. While the guitars may borrow a few ideas from the modern prog metal genre, there is an earnest simplicity about the band’s sound that the rhythm section happily elevates to a higher level.
The proto-human metalhead view of so-called “mainstream” metal is that it isn’t true (sorry, trve) and that anything with a melodic chorus, or that falls within the radio-friendly runtime, should be ignored, but that just smacks of cutting your nose off to spite your face. By restricting your listening solely because of some false idea of unworthiness, you miss out on genuinely interesting and catchy music. LACUNA COIL may not be the most innovative band, and ‘Black Anima’ doesn’t break new ground into some lofi black metal that would call those sorts back, but it is a masterfully-crafted album of the band’s signature gothic metal but with a modern edge to it. Vocally impressive (as always), heavy where it hurts and melodically interesting; it ranks among the band’s strongest efforts.