Comalies / A 10 Year Review

Reflections on a Decade

As 2012 comes to a close, and Lacuna Coil end their Dark Legacy Tour in Europe, it may come as a surprise to some that Comalies, the bands third full album, is ten years old.  It doesn’t seem it.  The album that changed Lacuna Coil, opened up the US and bought them new heights of fame, remains as relevant today as it was in 2002.

As I look back at the album, it’s recording, the songs, and the people that created it, I’m left with this overriding feeling that Comalies was a game-changer for Lacuna Coil.  Whether intentionally or not the album put Lacuna Coil on the map, with videos, radio-time, and acoustic sessions culminating in new levels of popularity; all these things came because of the song-writing efforts of six people and their unique interpretation of the next generation of Gothic album.

Comalies wasn’t my first Lacuna Coil album and it wasn’t until April 2003, half a year after it was released, that I first heard it. I was a new fan and my introduction to Lacuna Coil was with Unleashed Memories, an experience that I fondly refer to as my own ‘musical epiphany’. The day after I first listened to that album, and fallen in love with Lacuna Coil, I rushed to the music store on my way to work to buy everything they had to offer. Thanks to what little information there was on the Internet at the time, I knew that Lacuna Coil had released three albums and two EPs and I was determined to own them all. I was disappointed as only Comalies was available (Lacuna Coil albums remain difficult to buy in stores to this day), and it was only once home that I had a chance to listen to what I had purchased.

I was, of course, expecting to compare it to Unleashed Memories, still very fresh in my mind, and I wasn’t ready for the initial heaviness of Comalies. I was still absorbing the distinctive, and decidedly ‘un-metal’ CD leaflet, with its sunflower and flaming eye, when the first bars of ‘Swamped’ assaulted me.  The music, starting with synthesized, reversed notes, and the female singer’s (I had no idea what her name was at the time) haunting voice and the epic bass was departure from what I heard on Unleashed Memories. It was heavier, bolder and well just so different from what I expected.  Was it really possible for this band, that had moved me to my core with Unleashed Memories, to have yet another dimension?  Yes it was.

I continued to listen.  ‘Heaven’s A Lie’ started, and I’ll admit that initially I wasn’t a big fan of the song. It was just a bit too, dare I say, normal for my (new!) taste, and would take a number of listens before I began to truly appreciate it. Daylight Dancer followed, I remember thinking that every new song was a surprise and that remained the case throughout my discovery of Comalies.

It was obvious that this band was constantly experimenting with their music, it was eclectic, and I remember struggling to identify a single genre for it. To this day, I still can’t pigeonhole Lacuna Coil’s music, but that feeling first started with Comalies.  I felt that there was something very ‘futuristic’ about it, no doubt this was partly due to the bolder vocals, the remix of various sounds, the keyboards, and all the other ways that the band played with their music.  Like many others, the ‘skipping in ‘Aeon’ caught me out! I genuinely thought my CD was somehow damaged and came very close to returning it for an exchange before realizing. As the album continued its surreal journey though the menagerie of musical twists and turns I began to reflect just how simple Unleashed Memories seemed in comparison.  Comalies was rich, like a dark chocolate, almost too much to consume at times.  There were highs and lows of course.  ‘Unspoken’ for instance, never hit a heartstring for me until I heard the acoustic version a couple of years later. ‘The Prophet Said’, which I’ve since been told is, as I thought, a combination of two different songs was whilst interesting, never a favourite.

The list of delights continued. ‘Entwined’, even now, nearly a decade after I first heard it blows me away with its emotion.  ‘Angel’s Punishment’ still remains one of Lacuna Coil’s most original songs; that chant, that roar of a chorus.  I recall it being this point during my first listen that I realized that this was truly a masterpiece of an album.  The final gem was the song ‘Comalies’ itself.  I had previously wondered whether ‘Senzafine’ from Unleashed Memories was to be the only Italian song from this obviously Italian band, and the closing power-ballad with its English chorus was the perfect end to this most recent album.  Lacuna Coil proved that, even until the last, they intended to do things differently, and the result was a song that remains as brilliant and original today as it was then.  The biggest crime is that ‘Comalies’ remains lost of shadows of ‘Senzafine’ – an undeserved fate.

How did an album like Comalies, with its notable departure from the previous two albums, and EP, come to be born?  Upon reflection it’s clear that such notables as Paradise Lost initially influenced Lacuna Coil.  The Gothic pervades their first albums, most strongly with In A Reverie.  Lacuna Coil have always allowed their musical influences, as well as the musical ‘Zeitgeist’ to drive the direction of their creations, but perhaps Comalies was the first album where they truly left their initial influences behind and defined something that was uniquely their ‘sound’. Comparing Comalies to anything else around in 2002, or since, proves to be problematic.  Whereas In A Reverie and Unleashed Memories were created by a band growing up; simplicity partially masked by sometimes overlying complex mixes, Comalies was the ‘adult’ Lacuna Coil; prepared to stand up and say, “This is us.  Enjoy it or not, this is what we are now.” A philosophy that the band have maintained throughout their subsequent albums, much to the annoyance of those that would see them remain static and look to rehash old compositions.

Is it a coincidence that Lacuna Coil started to work on the pre-production for Comalies after their return from America? Perhaps that tour across the Atlantic opened up the idea of new opportunities to the band.  Perhaps the tour gave them a sense that they could be bigger than they had originally thought.  Perhaps it gave them the bravery to take a jump into the unknown, to try new things. What is interesting at this point though is that, even with that desire to try something new, they developed it in familiar surroundings, working in Milan on the material throughout the early months of 2002.  Pre-Production started at the beginning of April and on the 17th of that month they entered the Woodhouse studio in Germany, with friend and producer Waldemar Sorychta, to record and mix the album.  It’s done by the end of May.

Of the title, Cristina had this to say in an interview with Terrorizer in 2003.  “The title came from the recording of the album. We just went back to our memory of the songwriting and we just analysed the atmosphere surrounding that material. It was a very weird environment, sort of like a different dimension, and we were stuck in the one room trying and trying and trying to answer our thoughts and ideas, and it was just its us a hand. no-one else, and we totally disregarded everything around us, and we forgot all the people around us; family, friends, everyone. So we compared this weird atmosphere to a coma – not in the negative sense of the word itself, but a different dimension, something far away from the rest of the people. And then as soon as we started to play with the word and the title, we just decided to use ‘Comalies’ rather than ‘Comalised’, but it basically doesn’t have a real connection to the lyrics but it reflects the atmosphere around the songwriters.”

The distinctive Eye/Sunflower on the album cover was a collaborative work of genius between the band and their record label Century Media. The band wanted something that stood out amongst the Rock and Metal albums that Comalies would share shelf space with and the final result worked very well; to this day it distinctly symbolises the abstract and unique nature of the music therein.

Comalies was released on 8th October in Europe and 29th in America and was well received, with universally positive reviews, but it took until August 2004 for it to peak at #178 in the US Billboard charts.

Singles, complete with videos, came next, though it would be a couple of years before the popularity of the album reached its height.  Lacuna Coil toured the album relentlessly, especially in the US and 2003 saw them go coast to coast and back again. ‘Heaven’s A Lie’ was released as a single in late 2003 with, arguably, the bands first commercial video, courtesy of director Patric Ullaeus.

2004 was the ‘year of Comalies’ however, and that was because of Lacuna Coils inclusion in the US touring festival Ozzfest. In anticipation of the festival the record label, released an Ozzfest edition of Comalies, complete with a second CD containing acoustic versions of a number of songs as well as radio-edit versions of ‘Heavens A Lie’ and ‘Swamped’; the single for which was released in June 2004, complete with video, directed again by Ullaeus.

When the festival started, Lacuna Coil were opening many of the days on the second stage, which typically meant that the crowds were far from huge, and the band would only play a handful of songs. Comalies started to sell and sell; at one point the album outsold every other Ozzfest band with the exception of Slipknot. Even the combined weekly album sales of main stage acts like ‘Black Label Society’, ‘Superjoint Ritual’ and ‘Dimmu Borgir were surpassed by Comalies. The album broke the 200,000 SoundScan mark and at the same time Lacuna Coil’s albums finally became available to purchase on iTunes; another step forward.

At the end of 2004 Century Media reported that Comalies was their biggest selling album of that year, and in fact had broken every one of the labels sales records. By then, no one was really surprised.

In 2005 the re-release of Comalies was having effect in other countries as well.  In the UK both Metal Hammer and Kerrang magazines included the album in various ‘essential albums’ articles.  Renewed interest in Lacuna Coil, no doubt because of the success of  Comalies, encouraged the band’s music label to re-release the two previous albums, and combine two earlier EPs into one.  It worked, and more albums were sold to new fans.

By the end of 2005 Comalies had been out for three years and it was time for Lacuna Coil to move on.  With the success of the album fresh in peoples’ minds it must have been hard not to feel pressure during the creation of what was to follow.  The time of Comalies was over; focus now would fall on its successor, released in April 2006 and entitled Karmacode. That album sold twice as many units as Comalies but would forever remain in its shadow – another undeserved fate.

Looking back, the album created a legacy for Lacuna Coil and every album that follows (there have been three to date) is compared not only to their immediate predecessor, but to Comalies as well.  It remains a benchmark by which all other Lacuna Coil albums at judged.  Perhaps this is a burden to the band and Ozzfest 2004 must feel like a lifetime ago now.

Times have changed; digital downloads have revolutionised the way people listen to music – for good or ill.  When asked, Lacuna Coil don’t ever look to create a Comalies v2.0, that’s just not how they make music; in fact they rarely, if ever, even listen to the album anymore. For them Comalies is a part of their history, a part of the growing up they had to do to become the band they are today. They recognise that they wanted to do something different with the album, and the overwhelming evidence is that they succeeded. They have every right to be pleased.

For me, Comalies remains as powerful now as it was in 2003 when I first heard it.  It has never been my favourite by the band, but I can’t deny it is the ‘classic’ Lacuna Coil album, surpassing my own personal favourites as the truest reflection of what makes them unique.  Every band has one.. that seminal work which, for whatever reason, crystallises in the consicousness of its fans, and Comalies, complete with its 80’s keyboards, ‘skipping’ remix, and abstract cover, is Lacuna Coil’s.

If you’ve not listened to the album for a while, I politely ask that you do so now. However many Lacuna Coil albums there are left to make, I can well imagine listening to Comalies in 2022 and still hearing that freshness which remains so attractive to me.  I’m already looking forward to it.