LACUNA COIL — Lacuna Coil (review)

LACUNA COIL — Lacuna Coil album cover EP · 1998 · Gothic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
As a young metal fan living in Italy in 1998, I still remember very well the excitement of the Italian specialized press when this EP was announced. Lacuna Coil were a young talented band from Milan who, all of a sudden, were being picked up by one of the biggest metal labels of the time, Century Media. In a European market dominated by bands from Germany and Scandinavia, this was big news for Italy. Very few local metal bands had found themselves in a similar position, especially without having yet any official release in their name. So, was all the hype that surrounded this record justified?

Listening to the album today, more than twenty years after its initial release, I can see why Century Media decided to take a chance on this Italian sextet. The level of maturity in the songwriting and arrangements is indeed special for a band at the beginning of the career. Lacuna Coil already possess a fairly well-defined sonic identity, halfway between the doom of Paradise Lost and the gothic/atmospheric metal of The Gathering. Most importantly, the band can rely on the undeniable talent of leading vocalist Cristina Scabbia. The use of female vocalists alongside male singers was not uncommon for metal bands at the time, especially in the symphonic gothic/doom genre. But most bands typically enlisted in their ranks soprano-like singers and used them in a sort of supporting role, their ethereal and fragile vocals complementing the grunts and croons of the (leading) male vocalist. Lacuna Coil turn things on their head here: Cristina’s voice is lush and warm and she mostly uses her powerful mid-range rather than the upper register. She clearly takes the leading role in the band, with co-vocalist Andrea Ferro playing more of a supporting role. This is a wise move, as Andrea’s voice is not nearly as good as Cristina’s. His gruff and half-shouted vocal style sounds like a cross between Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes and Metallica’s James Hetfield, which is not necessarily a compliment. Occasionally he resorts to a clean gothic croon, but he does not sound fully comfortable with it yet on this album. Despite the limitations, the alternation between Cristina’s and Andrea’s vocals works well and gives Lacuna Coil a distinctive sound which makes them instantly recognizable.

Although Lacuna Coil show considerable promise on this EP, not all songs are equally impressive. Opening track “No Need to Explain” is a strong doom/gothic piece that makes an immediate impression on the listener. It is fuelled by some beautiful vocal melodies sung by Cristina (with Andrea providing backing vocals), laid on top on a varied and interesting musical background. The guitar work is heavy and tight, with good alternation between riffs and melodic leads. The tasteful piano flourishes (courtesy of producer Waldemar Sorychta) add a touch of levity to the arrangements. The rhythm section is somewhat unspectacular, but the simple groove works well to propel the song forward. This is easily the best track of the EP. Another highlight of the album is the atmospheric piece “Falling”, featuring only guitars and Cristina’s extraordinary voice. It is a beautiful ballad, somewhat reminiscent of some of the acoustic songs written by Anathema around the same years. This song is so good that it will be re-arranged and re-recorded for Lacuna Coil’s full-length debut album, released the following year. “This Is My Dream” is another interesting piece, based on a nice, slow bass groove and clean guitar arpeggio that reminds me somewhat of early Katatonia (circa Tonight’s Decision). Unfortunately, none of the remaining three tracks leave a similarly strong impression. “The Secret…” and “Soul into Hades” sound like faded-out versions of “No Need to Explain”, featuring similar ideas and arrangements, but without the strong vocal melodies that make that opening track stand out. “Un Fantasma Tra Noi” is an atmospheric but unspectacular instrumental that shows more than anything else how important Cristina’s voice is for the band's sound.

The alternation between stronger and weaker tracks in the space of the same record is a feature of many Lacuna Coil’s albums and one of the reasons why, personally, I never fully connected with the band. This EP is no exception, but it nevertheless holds a special place in my collection. It is an impressive debut record, showing a band that has already a fairly clear identity and the means to translate their musical ideas into tasteful compositions. Relative to later albums, this EP also retains a certain rough edge (the heavily distorted guitars, the simple monotonous drumming, the unpolished male vocals) that is somewhat endearing. These rough edges will be smoothened on later albums, giving Lacuna Coil wider commercial appeal, while at the same time taking away some of the spontaneity and uniqueness of the band’s early sound.

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