"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

Lacuna Coil's "Black Anima" is a spark for the artistic soul

As Lacuna Coil is my favorite band and has had an incredibly positive impact on my life, one would think that in my review of their music, some inherent bias might crop up – and perhaps that will happen. On the other hand, I’m also not afraid to be critical and honest, even though I’d love to blindly heap mountains of praise on everything these wonderful people do.

The truth is, I feel that in return for how Lacuna Coil has moved and inspired me, I have a responsibility as both fan and reviewer to be balanced and just when it comes to discussing how I feel about their various work. 

Firstly, I can confidently say that I love every album that this band has ever recorded (that’s not hyperbole, it’s genuine honesty and I won’t mince words about it). It’s just that there are some I love a bit more or less than others, which is bound to happen no matter how each individual record affects you.

That being said, when Delirium dropped in 2016, after the initial euphoria over the new material faded, I was able to admit that it was my least favorite record out of their discography. Again, I genuinely loved and enjoyed it in its own right, but if I had to compare it with its predecessors, I’d put it last. I as a listener felt that as exciting and refreshing as the injection of heaviness into their music was, there was some small thing missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Enter Black Anima. The same immediate excitement kicked in (I am a loyal Coiler, after all). Only this time, when that leveled out and I was able to gather my thoughts and feelings, and reflect on this new album in a measured and reasonable way, I found my opinion to be very, very different.

The album begins with “Anima Nera,” which could have been an instrumental intro – and might have felt a little by-the-numbers if it had been. But in typical Lacuna Coil fashion, the band decided to give it a twist. So, had they merely added a small vocal part to this song, it would have been welcome, but expected. Instead, what Cristina did with her voice had me surprised and engaged from the very beginning, and this was the first hint that this wouldn’t merely be another new record by this band – this would be an example of the entire band pushing themselves to reach new heights and achieve great things.

Cristina accomplished that in spades, and the opening track may represent that best of all. It has her using a much smaller voice, almost child-like, which is thrown into sharp contrast against a backdrop of electronic-tinged, vaguely gothic atmosphere, with piano that is at once both haunting and exciting. A true union of opposites, her voice combined with the music means we’re off to a very intriguing start. That contrast, by the way, further plays into the meaning and themes on the album, but more on that later.

Track two, “Sword of Anger,” proves track one to have been a prelude of sorts; as Andrea belts out in ferocious declaration, “We are the anima!,” this feels like the true beginning. From there, the guitar work (much more impressive here than on the prior album), combined with the relentless exchange of beauty and beast vocals, make for a wildly energized and headbang-able song. The catchy chorus is a highlight, and it really feels like Cristina is singing with especially proficient finesse and control over her voice, yet she makes it sound so casual and effortless. This is the exact sort of song that should be played at future shows.
One would be mistaken if they thought track three, “Reckless,” would have a similar style and structure – it has a completely different vibe, and confirms that each song on this album will have its own unique energy and sound to set it apart. Often, especially with new albums, there will be one or two standout tracks, while the rest have a general sense of similarity (even if they happen to sound good). But “Reckless” shakes things up and once again has Cristina take her voice to challenging and unexpected places.

As she sings, “let’s wreck it down, let’s be wild and get reckless,” she achieves a mix of siren-like beauty with attitude-edged urgency. Everything from the melody to the cadence of her voice is on point here, letting choice pauses hang between words (“keep the madness...endless”) for dramatic effect. It’s amazing, and it works. Andrea’s monstrous growls linger and creep beneath the surface, adding spots of additional power and heaviness where needed, but the next song is where he really shines.

“Layers of Time” blasts right out of the gate, this time with Andrea’s harshes driving the song, and the chuggy rhythm forcing you to bang your head before you’re aware of what’s happening! The guitarwork has a – dare I say it – djent-reminiscent sound that carries the song. If it were any other band, this would have made things feel like a simple continuation of what some other popular bands are doing right now, but this is Lacuna Coil, and Cristina belts out the chorus like only she can; that, along with the subtle but present gothic melody (more pronounced toward the end), make for a thrilling listen. However, it’s Andrea who really excels with his growls on this one – but even there, the best is yet to come.

This next one is my personal favorite, and circling back to what I said before, “Apocalypse” reminded me of what I felt that Delirium had been missing – a strong sense of heart; raw emotion. (Again, there are exceptions on that album – “Downfall” being an excellent example.) A typical setup (Cristina and Andrea trading vocals) and a verse-chorus-verse structure can’t stop this song from being absolutely phenomenal. When Cristina sings “we start a revolution...we celebrate your lies,” the beauty and the sheer power of that chorus sounds so good that I occasionally wonder why this hasn’t become a single (yet). Just when I felt that this song needed one more ingredient to become truly memorable, in comes a guitar solo that brings an epic sense of closure to this unexpectedly moving song. This is it; this is the point at which this album moves from being great to becoming a serious contender for the best work Lacuna Coil have ever done.

Remember when I said that each song on this album sets itself apart from the others? “Now or Never” falls right in line with that notion, beginning with a somber intro that evokes a vaguely old-time feeling spliced with an underlying creepiness. That transitions seemlessly into the catchy heaviness I’ve come to expect, but on this song in particular, both Cristina and Andrea continue to take their vocals to surprising places.

For Andy’s part, he delivers his lines with a fast-paced cadence, a sort of rap-scream that I’ve only heard him utilize once before – on Delirium’s “Blood, Tears, Dust” (another high point for that album). It sounds fantastic, and at the end of the verse, his growls descend into an almost rasping, shrieking style that I’ve never quite heard him use before. While he finds and unleashes the beast within, Cristina seriously challenges that power, this time going not for beauty, but for a fierce yell: “Through the turmoil, hold the flame, there’s no mercy for the innocent!” The pitch and energy in her voice is astonishing here, and reveals her to be a more impressive and versatile vocalist than even I could have imagined.

The beginning of “Under the Surface” serves as a nice counterpart to the previous track’s intro, giving the listener a brief spurt of electronic influence before delving back into the rough-beautiful vocal dichotomy that the band does best. Here the vocals are more typical, as well as the general structure of the song, but that’s not a bad thing – as Cristina pipes, “Everything feels perfect when you’re spinning lies,” I begin to realize that this album has some of the catchiest choruses Lacuna Coil has done in at least three albums. How this amazing woman continues to find fresh and deeply riveting ways to serenade the listener is something to be commended. The one little nitpick I have with this song is that it seems to have a bit of a tinny sound to it; there’s a certain pitch to the music that feels off, but maybe that’s just me.

“Veneficium” is the longest song on the record, and the Latin chant at the beginning – more atypical voice work that sounds brilliant – tells me that this one is going to be a journey. I was craving a song like this, and this one becomes an essential must-listen. The album as a whole would have felt incomplete without it, which tells me the band knew exactly what this record needed: every song feels earned and seems like the logical next step in the greater musical story Lacuna Coil are telling. This is easily also one of the most gothic and darkly beautiful tracks, strangely harkening back to the earlier days of the band while simultaneously pushing them into new territory. Here, Cristina and Andrea stick to their tried and true vocal styles, which is not a criticism. When Cristina sings “but it’s all in vain,” her voice sends shockwaves of emotion over me. After “Apocalypse,” this is the second song that gives me actual chills.

For me, “The End is All I Can See” is the weakest track on the record – and also a genuinely great song in its own way, which reinforces my sense of awe about Black Anima – on any other Lacuna Coil album, this would have been among the standout tracks; here, it’s simply overpowered by other even more brilliant songs. Make no mistake, though: this is no song to skip over. It’s probably the most electronic-driven, and has a sense of buildup that almost feels as though it isn’t going to pay off – until the polished, crystalline cadence of Cristina’s voice brings it all to a beautifully epic crescendo.

Next comes a song that seriously challenges “Apocalypse” as my personal favorite song on Black Anima. “Save Me” is a raw, unfiltered exposition of emotional vulnerability that I have never seen from this band before. The drumming and guitar also stand out on this one; the chorus could not have been so well delivered without those beats and power chords wrapped around it. Another of Lacuna Coil’s talents is tricking the listener’s ear by using heavy instrumentals to deliver disarmingly gripping emotion, and this song does that in a way that is incomparable to any song the band has done in their entire career before.

This is a heart-wrenching and eye-opening masterpiece that will probably be overlooked by some listeners as a simple ballad, but the Coilers who crave emotive songs from their favorite band will understand. Cristina may use her vocals in amazing ways on the other tracks, but this is the one where it really counts. She opened her soul on this one, pouring all her sadness and pain into this musical reservoir, and it washed my heart with poignant empathy. This was the point at which I understood that I was hearing some of the best music I will ever hear in this lifetime.

All great things must come to an end, and so it is with the closing title track. “Black Anima” is far from the strongest song on this record, but serves as a steady and driven dark counterbalance to the prior track. This one was definitely a grower for me – it took two or three listens. When I finally felt that I “got it,” though, my respect for this song increased, and I found it to be an exceptional choice for this album’s ending. It really does have a “credits rolling” kind of feeling to it – perhaps it’s the urgent intonation of Cristina’s vocals, or the slow but steady drumming, but something here brings a sense and feeling of conclusion, and while, again, not being a track that moved me quite as much as many others on this record, it serves as a fitting and necessary coda on this unforgettable musical journey.

Black Anima, all songs considered, is all about balance for me; that halfway mark between light and darkness, and I feel that the clever and (eventually) iconic artwork on the album cover represents that wonderfully: the angel, with sword in hand, resisting and fighting the dragon even as it tries to consume him. If that isn’t an apt metaphor for the dark emotional place some of these band members were in when they recorded this, I don’t know what is.

It also underscores what I feel is the sentiment of this album as a whole, reiterated where needed in particular songs: the darkness that we go through, that sometimes threatens to swallow us whole, is a part of life and who we are, so strike the balance. Don’t be afraid to dwell in the shadows. Own that darkness and it can’t be used against you, and never stop fighting.

I can say it now: this is the best album Lacuna Coil have done in their entire career. And over two and a half decades after they started, that’s no easy thing to achieve, but they’ve done it. This is also one of the most important albums of 2019. At a time when so many people are dealing with depression or despair, this song might as well be an emotional black bible for the modern era. This one has everything: pain, sadness, anger, joy, hope – and none of it would mean anything if the music and the breathtaking vocals didn’t drive it into our hearts, but it does. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one. It is a must-have album, and this is a true piece of art, so you simply must purchase the physical version; merely streaming its digital counterpart would be a disservice to what these artists have done. This is something that needs to be held and looked at and thought about, something you should cherish as an invaluable part of your music collection.

This is the album that will come to define this band, and I struggle to believe that Lacuna Coil could ever make another album that could top this one – and yet, somehow, I think Cristina would probably smile and say, “challenge accepted.”