Erase. Rewind. Rebuild…
I’ve not exactly been an active follower of Lacuna Coil since about the time when they kind of exploded onto the scene with the commercial success achieved by their third full-length album Comalies. They just never really klicked with me again like they did with said album’s first single “Heaven’s A Lie”. Main reason for me neglecting them later is probably the band realizing around that time that they could further illuminate the more commercial, poppier aspects of their game to gain, well, even more mainstream success. The following years were stained by additional pop and trendy nu-metal elements, further suppressing the initial gloominess and romanticism of Lacuna Coil‘s origins, hence dropping the ball for me completely.
Fast-forwarding a decade and then some, I stumbled upon a video recommendation for “Layers of Time” on YouTube. Apparently Google already knew I could like this new shape of Lacuna Coil more than previous incarnations of the band? Well, I klicked the link and was welcomed by a growling Andrea Ferro, which was an element I did not expect. Sure, while the guitar riffing was undeniably still somewhat nu-metal inspired in its downtuned monotony, I couldn’t help but realize that the slightly abrasive, almost sludgy distortion put atop of the guitars and the highly prominent ultra-“clangy” bass felt welcoming enough to an abandoned fan like me. After giving the whole album a few thoroughly enjoyable spins, I’m just here to laud the band for taking the risk to explore a different direction and not to repeat their worn-out formulae like so many other popular female-fronted goth pop acts since the mid-2000s.
Fortunately, Cristina hasn’t lost the slightest bit of her versatile, charming voice throughout the years and the inclusion of a growling Andrea to accompany her singing talents…what an excellent move! Revisiting older material, Andrea’s presence has always been second-tier to Cristina’s – rightfully so – but apparently he started playing with a more extreme take on his vocals on this album’s predecessor, Delirium and they chose to weave even more of this approach into their new material and voila – it works like a charm! Of course we are not talking about a complete 180-degree turn into a brutal record here, but there’s hints of modern death metal-ish ingredients to be found within the instrumental spectrum of Black Anima‘s writing without ever mutilating the band’s ability to create hook-laden singalong choruses with lasting value and without the usual pop-sugarcoating I’d associate this band with prior to my recent discoveries.
Heavy as it is, the mostly persistent shortage of distinctive guitar riffs diminishes the album overall’s impact quite a bit as they couldn’t quite shake off the nu-metal tag completely. Groovy single-note riffs aplenty seep through the heavier sections of the album and their lack of diversity and memorability could be a disastrous element, if it wasn’t for the spirited vocal trade-offs between Cristina and Andrea, the excellent and even kind of raw production job (perfectly audible, up-front bass guitar!) with only one flaw on display – that one being the drumsets’ lack of bottom-end heaviness, which flattens the impact of an otherwise rock-solid and frankly quite powerful performance including great double bass-runs – plus generally consistent and thoroughly enjoyable songwriting patterns that lead to an experience that is so far removed from earlier disappointments, that Black Anima actually found a spot on my best-of-2019 list, despite its imperfections.
Imperfections? Well, apart from the aforementioned lack of variety in the guitar department, there are still a few awkward moments on this record, mind you. “Save Me” features the cringiest spoken-word passage this side of Dave Mustaine and is overall a rather lackluster track with a corny, overshadowing chorus and not much else to offer, “The End Is All I Can See” is a fuzzy (everything but the drums seems to have been put through additional distortion filters) mid-pace plodder which fails at breaking out of its permanent directionless meandering. The opening track “Anima Nera” has Cristina assuming a role and tone set somewhere between an evil witch (which was probably the intention) and Daisy Duck (which is…detrimental to the intended effect) and it just doesn’t work as an introductory piece because the only emotion it sets is irritation, which is never a good thing when you are trying to get new listeners to spend 45 minutes on your release…
But apart from that, Anima Nera turned out to be a more-than-decent modern gothic metal album with faint extreme metal tendencies; it feels both beautiful and kind of rotten at the same time. It succeeds because it excels at keeping a foreboding atmosphere alive throughout its whole duration (if you ignore the intro that is) and even its lows are not nearly as deal-breaking as they have been before in this band’s shaky history.
Well done, Lacuna Coil!
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