It’s been 3 years since Lacuna Coil’s Delirium hit us with its madness and heaviness. For many it was a surprising new direction for the band; we heard Andrea Ferro focusing on the growl vocals that we’d not heard from him for many years, and Cristina Scabbia taking her soaring vocals to new heights.
Enter Black Anima.
You will need no more clue to the theme of this album than the name itself. ‘Black Anima’ speaks of the darkness within all of us and the art re-enforces that; there will even be a version of the album that comes with Tarot cards. But what are Lacuna Coil telling us here? How does this all come together?
The album starts with a prologue. ‘Anima Nera’ is the first step into the darkness of the album. Musically it’s simple in structure, but there is a something a little disturbing about the tone here. It’s as if we’re being warned to stop. Back away. Cristina conveys an obsessive innocence which evolves over the course of the song with a vocal balletics we’re unused to. We’re left wondering if she has lost the ability to turn away from what is to come next. There is a slow piano fade out heightening the anticipation of what is about to happen…
‘Sword of Anger’ opens with a musical tease then Andrea roars ‘We are the Anima!’ The Cristina of the previous song, being given what she has obsessed over, hits us with the intensity of House of Shame. Andrea, unleashing an effective range of roars, growls and clean vocals, tells of what we experience and overcome. In the background we hear Cristina building the vocal harmony towards the chorus. This is a song that builds on Delirium, with a pace and tone seen on Broken Crown Halo. In the break we have Cristina’s soaring vocals to take us through to the heavy return. It’s exhilarating and beautifully executed.
‘Reckless’, released as the second single from the album, builds on the darkness, tonally we’re in a middle of horror with no sense of escape. Cristina takes the lead on this, her vocals switch from the familiar to a twisted and crazy pitch that that fits perfectly, adding to the sensation of losing control. The bass forms an epic foundation for this madness, and we have a dark and chaotic guitar solo from Diego that re-enforces that loss of control once more. This is world-class musical story-telling. When it ends abruptly, I still want more.
There’s a ticking of a clock and something is building. It last just ten seconds, breathless in intensity before… “Layers of Time” is released. The first single, with no irony, is one of the most layered of Lacuna Coil songs. We have that bass, those drums, and a guitar melody that builds to a great solo. And of course the vocals of Andrea and Cristina that convey the passage of time and our inability rewind it. The beautiful break, a layered harmony of dreamlike Cristina vocals, builds perfectly to heavy return. Andrea takes us to the end, the ‘Layers of Time’ a reminder of our own vulnerability.
When you hear the first bars of ‘Apocalypse’ you would be forgiven for thinking you were hearing the Lacuna Coil from 2003’s Comalies album. There’s that recognisable dreamlike quality as the music and vocals spiral and swell towards a soaring chorus. Recognition of the past is both something woven into the lyrics as well as the music on Black Anima and nowhere is this more apparent than in this song. Apocalypse is emotional; there’s a sense of raw desperation in the voices of Andrea and Cristina; this is a modern ‘Comalies’ or ‘Unleashed Memories’. Apocalypse gave me the chills, with its darkness and melody; a standout Lacuna Coil song on this or any other album.
The disturbing, slightly distorted, notes that give you those chills in horror movies have inspired Marco Coti Zelati throughout Black Anima and are evident in the lead in to ‘Now or Never’. Then we have the rising guitars, bass and vocals from Andrea reminiscent of Dark Adrenaline and Broken Crown Halo. There is a relentless pace in the verses that only let up when Cristina takes over for a rising chorus. There is anger here, with Cristina screaming out her frustrations, before the guitars take over and we return to the chorus. If Black Anima is about the darkness in our souls then it’s pitch black here.
We cannot escape what’s in our souls and Lacuna Coil provide little chance for us to catch our breath before hitting us with ‘Under the Surface’, opening with a relentless pounding bass and growls from Andrea. There is a tonal shift when Cristina sings the verse and subsequent chorus. This provides us with a lightness in tone which is a break from the heaviness of the music. She provides a rock counter-point to the metal of the rest of the band. The result is wholly addictive ear-worm that combines elements of Shallow Life, Dark Adrenaline and Delirium. When it ends you’re left wondering just where Black Anima can go next…
The answer is Veneficium.
In what can best be described as a symphonic, operatic epic, Cristina chants in Latin. This is something new for Lacuna Coil and, after the initial shock, leaves you wondering if there’s any musical style they can’t do. After the pounding bass of the introduction, we are allowed to ease off a little and Andrea sings the verse. You realise that this isn’t not so deviated from the familiar, and yet…It’s fresh, and huge. Cristina sings the pre-chorus and the song continues to build to the beautiful and emotional full chorus. ‘Beauty and Beast’ lyrics divide this song perfectly, supported by an exquisite melody, percussion and some of the best guitar riffs heard in a Lacuna Coil song. This is a song beautiful structured and the six minute length gives the music and vocals room to breathe. A truly outstanding song.
At this point in the journey of Black Anima it’s almost impossible to predict what will come next. We’ve been to so many different, and yet connected, places on the album. There’s homage to the old, the completely new. Well, it’s not over yet.
Electronics and synths have always played a big part in Lacuna Coils music. We’ve heard it on every album and the fusion of gothic and metal music, as well as the dual vocals is part of their uniqueness. They celebrate that in ‘The End Is All I Can See’. After a lead in that reminds me of Nine Inch Nails, dreamlike vocals from Cristina for the verse Andrea comes in with chorus. This is a different Lacuna Coil and another aspect of our Black Animas. We’ve seen various elements in other songs other the years, but here it comes together for the first time and is yet another highlight on the album. It reminds me of the combination of This is my Dream, Virtual Environment, and Oblivion. Just wow!
The tone shifts once more with ‘Save Me’, a rock song in that speaks of personal crisis. Cristina sings this with support from Andrea and a strong musical presence. You can’t help but imagine Cristina on stage belting out this song with her unique gusto. There’s a sense of desperation, a cry for help, a vulnerability and a determination which is emphasised by a monologue from Cristina before a final chorus of ‘Save me from myself!’ The whole effect is one of cathartic release.
The final song on the album is the title track. Starting with a creepy haunting electronic piano that reminds one of horror story, Black Anima builds with Cristina singing with tone that will get right under your skin. I shuddered. Then Andrea roars and Cristina soars into the chorus. And all the time that piano! The blend of heaviness, electronics, and vocal contrasts complete the dark journey of Black Anima perfectly.
OK so here’s the deal. You all know I’m a fan of Lacuna Coil and I’ve seen the band in the studio pouring themselves into this album. So let me say this as a Lacuna Coil fan – Black Anima is probably the most complete, mature, and relevant album of their career. It’s heavy, melodic, surprising, emotional, and epic. Cristina takes her vocals to a completely new level in this album. Her range is stunning. Andrea sounds amazing whether roaring, growling or clean. Together, with the layers of heavy yet melodic music courtesy of Marco, they are Lacuna Coil.
This is an album 20 years in the making.
There are so many highlights, it feels like a greatest hits album of your new favourite band! Every creative experience Lacuna Coil has learnt has been poured into this album and the result is something truly special.
If you’re already a fan of Lacuna Coil, I’m convinced you will find music here that has evolved from whichever aspect of their style of music that you enjoy the most. If you’re a metal fan but have dismissed the band so far, it’s time to take another listen. You’ll thank me later.
Black Anima is about the darkness inside of us. It’s a journey and, as good as every song is, don’t listen to them individually. This album has to be experienced start to finish, as it was intended. Your reward will be a unique experience of a band soaring to new heights.