Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Album Review: Lacuna Coil - "Delirium"

Now wait just a minute, where did this come from?  It’s a pretty fair bet that every music journalist in the land, including those at this esteemed site (if we dare call ourselves such,) had the skeleton of this review written weeks ago, waiting only for the meat in the middle of the essay to fill in the details.  For three or four albums now, the overriding theme of every Lacuna Coil editorial orbited around the idea that the band was slowly but surely turning themselves into the spearhead of mainstream metal, filling their plate and the public’s with accessible, clean melodies and a veneer of overdriven attitude that cynics believed was only an attempted appeasement to the hardcore.  Whether or not that move was a good idea was the subject of great debate in the metalosphere (in the interest of full disclosure, both of us here though it was a good decision, or at least not a bad one,) but regardless of individual position, that was the only germane question when it came to the career of Lacuna Coil.

Now though, “Delirium.”  This is very much a different experience that any album dating all the way back to 2009’s “Shallow Life,” and while it strays from the mainstream path, also stands different that the band’s critically acclaimed early works.  “Delirium” is a new Lacuna Coil, forged in experience and tested with new membership, taking the learned lessons of the old and applying them wholesale into a new, darker dynamic.

Using the word ‘darker’ causes an automatic cringe, as it is the single most underused word in all of pop culture, but it’s necessary here as that is the only word that seems appropriate when addressing this new album.  Simply hearing the album’s opener “The House of Shame” is to recognize, though the dim lighting of fire and smoke that this is Lacuna Coil as we haven’t seen them before.  The undercurrent of this and nearly every song on the record is one of well-cultivated foreboding, befitting the album’s title and stark cover art.  The bass lines are deep, the chug lacking in bright harmonies, the vocals of Andrea Ferro raw and primal.

Speaking of Andrea, he makes a distinct return to prominence here, much to the delight of fans who has shirked at the perception of his backup role.  Yes, there’s plenty of Cristina Scabbia still to be had on this album, but she uses her angelic tones to accent the desperation of the songs like “Broken Things,” leaving Ferro to fill in the crevasses with his earthy howling.  It’s a new dynamic for the vocal duo, no longer trading parts or allowing Scabbia’s pristine tones to dominate the color of the music, but rather the two working in separate lines, almost as if they’re singing two different songs.

One of the underlying truths of every Lacuna Coil album is that they had always been a singles band – yes, “Karmacode” was a great complete album, as were some others, but the reason you tuned in was always the big, richly produced singles, “Heaven’s a Lie,” “Survive,” “Victims.”  In the wake of these magnetic moments, much of the rest of the album would be lost over the side.  “Delirium,” by contrast, trades in the radio-ready for the gritty and macabre, and there are no especially poignant single moments that overshadow the rest.  “Take Me Home” (not a cover of the Phil Collins song,) is probably the closest thing on this album to the old formula, but even this comparatively up-tempo treat heading up the album’s back half is laced with just a touch of either longing or sarcasm or both.  This plays into the big hook chorus of “You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You,” which again, contains many familiar elements of Lacuna Coil singles (and a little Halestorm too, if we’re being honest,) but arrays them in such a fashion that the sharp edge of the knife is decidedly pointed at the listener.

Lest we give the idea that nothing here will be familiar to longtime Coil fans, there are some hallmarks that remain untouched.  Scabbia and Ferro, as mentioned, remain the focal point of the album, although their dynamic is different but not necessarily better or worse.  Even with that, there’s still a great deal of musicianship to be heard here, and while Lacuna Coil will rarely thrill with individual instrumental virtuosity, the rhythm section, including several prominent guests, make their mark by picking the right notes at the right time, rather than simply blasting them out full bore.  Their artistry is paired with the same rubbery bass tone that the band fell in love with a few albums ago which sounded borrowed at its debut but now is firmly couched as part of the anticipated Coil idiom and identity.

If “Delirium” needs a tweak here or there, it would only be in the new dynamic between Scabbia and Ferro.  Allowing Andrea to take on a greater role is a welcome new twist, but the two vocalists’ new power-sharing dynamic may take some time to grow into.  As we talked about above, the weaving of Scabbia and Ferro, working apart and attacking from different angles is effective when it works, but if they had crossed each other path’s a little more often some of the feeling of distance between them might have been diminished in favor of more real harmony.

Whether or not “Delirium” is the product of new membership in the band or a reaction to the undue criticism of those who think being accessible is a bad thing or any other number of contributing factors is unknowable but ultimately moot.  What “Delirium” is, is the beginning of the third act of Lacuna Coil’s successful career, a commanding statement that speaks to the band’s resolve and confidence as they carry forward.  It is, for lack of more precise adjectives, excellent.

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