Tuesday, May 31, 2016

album review: 'delirium' by lacuna coil

It hasn't been easy to be a fan of Lacuna Coil.

And the sad thing is that most of the fanbase seems to be in agreement that starting with Shallow Life the gothic metal band became a less-interesting shadow of what they were. I'll be honest and say that while I got into them when I was a teenager, I would never consider Lacuna Coil one of my favourite metal acts, but throughout the late 90s and most of the 2000s they were a solid group that had potent melodies and a cohesive sound. And even if their writing has always been a little spotty, there was a lot to like about those records... and then Don Gilmore showed up. With a more commercial-leaning mix, Shallow Life was a pivot towards the mainstream that was too little, too late, and only served to alienate a fair chunk of Lacuna Coil's fans. They made a modest return with Dark Adrenaline, but by the time they released Broken Crown Halo in 2014, having booted Gilmore for Jay Baumgardner, it became apparent that the problem wasn't so much the production but by-the-numbers composition and writing. And yes, that's even with the admission that 'Die & Rise' remains one of the best songs of 2014 for taking a unique point-of-view and twisting it into a kickass song.

So one could argue Lacuna Coil needed a dramatic shake-up - and from all accounts they got it. Both guitarists and the drummer retired from the band, which led their bassist Marco Coti Zelati picking up guitar work along with new arrival Diego Cavallotti, along with hiring drummer Ryan Folden. It rapidly became clear that Lacuna Coil was heading in a new direction, and with lead-off single 'The House Of Shame'... well, they certainly got there, with chugging, borderline metalcore riffs and a much heavier focus on the growled male vocals. And... look, I'm not a metalcore fan, but I was willing to give this a try, especially considering Zelati was handling all production work in-house. So did this work?

Well... no. And I really hate saying that, because you can tell that Lacuna Coil was looking to snap out of a funk with this record, push into a brand new direction for the group - and man, it doesn't work for me at all. Not only do they not fix the problems that follow from Broken Crown Halo, they somehow exacerbated them and added new issues to boot. As such, while Delirium by Lacuna Coil is at least cohesive in embracing its new sound, it's not a sound that flatters this group whatsoever, and it might just be their least listenable record to date.

So how did this happen? Well, let me start by talking about the elements that actually still work, the first and most obvious being Cristina Scabbia's vocals? She's always been a solid and expressive singer, and while she has a little less to do on this album, her vocals do stand out when she gets a little more presence in the mix. And yet just like Nightwish's last record, it doesn't look like anyone knows how to properly balance her more ethereal tones against the much thicker, more compressed riffs, or give her the multi-tracking she needs to match Andrea Ferro's louder, more prominent howls. And that just strikes me as a poor choice, as she's by far more interesting singer than Ferro's one-dimensional rage. And look, I get adding growled vocals for contrast against the cleaner singing - Epica does this all the time - but you need to give the clean vocals more actual presence, especially if you're going to make the riffs that much heavier - and piling fuzzes on both singers doesn't make any of it sound less visceral so much as it feels sloppily fixed-in-post. To go back to why 'Die & Rise' actually worked on Broken Crown Halo, it allowed the singers to play off each other, whereas here it often feels like Scabbia is being drowned out.

And this is not helped by the production. And look, as I said earlier, I'm not the biggest fan of metalcore, or even the deathcore touches you see here in the blast beat drumming and chunky downtuned riffs, but I understand if people are into it and can appreciate the sound more. But what I do see is a near-complete abandonment of what gave Lacuna Coil's albums unique presence before: the melancholic mood and atmosphere that at least tried for melody. 'The House Of Shame', 'Downfall', and 'My Demons' get close, keeping hints of ghostly symphonic elements around the edges or at least a little more keyboards and balanced vocals, but the second we get into 'Broken Things', it becomes very clear the actual melody is the least important element on these tracks - sure, that familiar guitar tone is there behind a cloud of cymbals on the verses, but then you have an incredibly thin shrill layer on the chorus that seems like a stab at glitchy elements that completely misfires. And the poor synth choices unfortunately carry over from Broken Crown Halo too, or the introduction of just terrible effects to supplement this songs: the plaintive squeals around the hook of the title track along with the shrill synth over the verses, the gummy chiptune that keeps popping up on 'Blood, Tears, Dust' that somehow bleeds over the hook and an increasingly clumsy groove, the greasy synths drizzled all over 'Ghost In The Mist', or the fuzz over 'My Demons' trying desperately to make the song sound more visceral, or those godawful child vocals that open 'Take Me Home' that might have some potent bass texture but then pairs it with one of the most shoddily assembled and choppy grooves I've heard on a hook all year - and yes, Lacuna Coil, I heard 'Scaretale' when Nightwish wrote it back in 2011, but the difference there is that the mix actually had depth and deeper punch, which very few of these riffs actually have! There's a lot of compression and occasionally a good groove, but there are too many points where the compression feels unsupported and not having the body to really build momentum. Sure, there are points where the rickety, half-assembled texture kind of works - the bass and guitar textures on the verses 'You Love Me 'Cause I Hate You' are pretty potent, especially against the dirtier percussion, but I'm left appreciating the guest guitar solos on songs like 'Downfall' from Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge or on 'Claustrophobia' from Alessandro La Porta far more because at least they add some melody and stand out before the riff breaks into deadened synths backing a gutless breakdown. And while I'm nitpicking here, the drum production on this album is incredibly frustrating, especially with that slapping kick drum patter that in no way complements the riffs. At least they managed to fix the cymbal production so it comes through clear - arguably clearer than any guitar melody you get, because it sure as hell gets more presence.

But that's all production - if you're more of a metalcore or deathcore fan, you can probably get behind it despite my gripes. Where things get a lot less excusable is in the writing, which reportedly is delving into the horrors we experience in everyday life and the constant struggle to deal with them. And to say this record plays fast and loose with that theme would be understating it, because this record doesn't come close to getting specific and contains some of the most badly structured writing I've heard on a Lacuna Coil album to date, the worst probably being the flat-out embarrassing hook on 'Take Me Home' or on 'Broken Things'. But moving past that, the more I dig into the lyrics the more I find that Lacuna Coil might be their own worst enemy on facing the 'horrors' of the world, as right from the start this is a record loaded with antisocial accusations and aimless rage. Hell, you could argue from songs like 'Delirium' that the 'protagonist' of this record is dealing with personal demons far darker than anything else outside, and on moments like 'Downfall' or maybe 'Ghost In The Mist' they do a decent job capturing how said demons can seem insurmountable, even with help. The problem becomes that instead of actually dealing with these inner demons, Lacuna Coil lashes out at everyone else and this record gets exasperating and pretty damn juvenile, mostly because tracks like 'My Demons' and 'Claustrophobia' have absolutely no subtlety, or even much nuance. I'll admit I was a bit intrigued by the BDSM imagery on 'You Love Me 'Cause I Hate You' for at least trying for metaphor, but the kink is so sloppily realized that I can't remotely get invested. But what's more frustrating is that Lacuna Coil seems to be regressing in their writing, feeding into the blunt choppy statements that might be above average for deathcore but a painful step down compared to Lacuna Coil's best.

And that's the thing: if this was a band releasing their first album, I might be a little more forgiving - hell, in comparisons to most of the deathcore I've heard, this might just be poetic. But this is Lacuna Coil's eighth album, and even making the excuse that this is practically a new group, even they have gone out of the way to emphasize the core of the songwriting hasn't changed. Well, guess what, where Broken Crown Halo showed them running out of ideas, Delirium has them hitting the bottom of the barrel and going for a sound that's measurably less melodic and interesting that does nothing to emphasize the group's strengths. This record gave a splitting headache with every listen, which is why it's getting a 4/10 and no recommendation from me, and while I won't fault a band for trying new things, this definitely did not work. Skip it.


  1. Hello Mark. I've been a fan of your's for a few years now. I've got some questions to ask you. Whre's today's Billboard Breakdown? Please reply to me because I've got more questions for one of my favorite music reviewers!

    1. I can answer for him: Billboard delayed the chart a day for Memorial Day. when the chart gets delayed, Billboard Breakdown does inevitably.