[12 May 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
You had to feel for Lacuna Coil when Evanescence became the biggest thing in modern rock in 2003. After all, here was a band who had been tirelessly building a fanbase in Europe since the late 1990s with their listener-friendly brand of goth metal, had released a very good third album in 2002 to considerable critical acclaim, only to have a bunch of corn-fed kids from Arkansas with a big publicity machine behind them take the very sound the Italian sextet had helped pioneer, and present it to the American suburban goth kids in a much more pop-oriented, dumbed down variation. As a result, while Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal” rocketed to the top of the charts, terrific Lacuna Coil songs like “Heaven’s a Lie” and “Daylight Dancer” barely registered a blip on the mainstream radar.
All was not lost, however, as the popularity of Evanescence did show that there was indeed a hunger among young American audiences for some good, dark, melodic metal, something not lost on Lacuna Coil, who toured relentlessly in 2003 and 2004, including a coveted spot on the Ozzfest bill, steadily building word of mouth to the point where Comalies became the biggest album in the history of Century Media Records, selling more than 200,000 units. The band won over many savvy Evanescence fans, who learned there was more to the sound than black hair dye and boring piano ballads, and lead singer Cristina Scabbia became one of the most prominent ladies in metal, her presence inspiring teen females to do the same, and her exotic Italian looks, coupled with some eye-popping lad mag photos (FHM and Stuff in particular), inspiring teen males in more libidinous ways.
Needless to say, Lacuna Coil now find themselves on the cusp of becoming a major player in the metal world, and after taking nearly four years to put out a follow-up to Comalies, Karmacode has finally arrived with great fanfare from their label. Deservedly touted as one of the most anticipated metal albums of 2006 by everyone from your average goth at the mall food court to corporate publications like Rolling Stone, the new album is at the same time confident and cautious, sticking to what made the band famous in the first place, and careful not to make a mis-step. Immaculately produced by longtime collaborator Waldemar Sorychta, and containing plenty of the ornate melodies and low-end guitars, derived from such ‘90s innovators as My Dying Bride, Tiamat, and especially the Gathering, it gives the kids what they want: more of the same.
The band’s one major contribution to the development of goth metal has been the dual male/female lead vocals of Andrea Ferro and Scabbia, and although Karmacode doesn’t change the vocal arrangement at all, Scabbia’s presence is gradually becoming more dominant. Rightfully so, as she possesses a tremendous voice, capable of hitting the high notes, yet avoiding the operatic bombast of After Forever’s Floor Jansen and former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen. As for Ferro, he continues to serve as a good foil for Scabbia, the pair trading lines effectively on such songs as “Fragile” and “Devoted”, but after four albums, his borderline monotone growl is starting to sound tiresome and predictable. Thankfully, Scabbia is always there to rescue each song, evidenced perfectly by “Within Me”, which opens with a typically tone-deaf verse by Ferro, only to be answered with an absolutely gorgeous chorus by Scabbia. It’s formulaic, but at least this band knows how to work the formula well.
It’s Scabbia’s singing that draws our attention, though, and the new album has some of her best work to date. The pulsating “To the Edge” is dominated by her dominant, assertive performance, propelled by a dance-fueled rhythm section during the verses. “Our Truth”, the first single is the first of several solo performances, featuring soaring melodies over a churning backdrop by the rest of the band, while her oft-used, Middle Eastern inspired harmonizing adds a lovely touch to the instrumental “You Create”, which segues neatly into the crunching “What I See”. Although Karmacode plays it rather close to the vest, we’re treated to a couple of very pleasant surprises, one being the upbeat “Closer” which approaches the retro pop metal of Finland’s Lullacry, Scabbia sounding less dour than usual, but it’s the brilliant cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” that steals the show, the band providing their trademark muscular accompaniment while Scabbia puts her own distinct vocal stamp on the classic tune.
Karmacode does carry on for a few songs too many (“In Visible Light” and “The Game” the primary culprits), and save for “Enjoy the Silence”, doesn’t take any bold steps forward, but it still shows just how good Lacuna Coil are at what they do, presented in a high-gloss, primed-for-stardom package that is bound to go over huge. Nobody deserves it more.