Thursday, January 26, 2012
Metalheads are picky. They can also be unbearable purists when it comes to their definition of what constitutes "real metal" and I'm certainly no exception. But I've noticed a rule by which a band that's not all that heavy can still be spoken with the same breath as a band whose name is completely illegible and/or involves references to death, blood, murder, firearms, torture, or internal organs. The first thing, and most obvious, is to be one of the founders of the genre. Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Megadeth; no screaming or breakdowns or severe down-tuning, but as the grandfathers of heavy metal you could listen to these bands all day long and maintain your "metal-cred." The other thing a band can do to still be "metal" without exactly sounding so "metal," is feature an insanely hot female member, preferably as a vocalist.
Hence, Lacuna Coil can be accurately called a metal band. "Metal" or not, they're still one of my favorites - and not just because vocalist Cristina Scabbia ranks as one of the planet's hottest women. Formed in the mid 90s and hailing from Italy, Lacuna Coil's sound began in a decidedly gothic vein. But over the course of several years it evolved into the music they're most known for now, which blends gothic harmonies with harmonic/melodic minor chord structure to evoke a vaguely Middle Eastern sound. 2006's Karmacode marked the solidification of that sound and the band's stand-out status. 6 years and two albums later, what is Lacuna Coil up to with Dark Adrenaline?
The lead single from this album ("Trip the Darkness") was released last October and is without a doubt the lead song from this album, kicking the 13-track CD off with that signature Lacuna Coil sound. Andrea Ferro, the male-half of Lacuna's male/female vocal duo, continues to hone his vocal abilities - which have seen increased polishing over the course of their discography. As a result, the fact that his vocals are more present on this album than previous outings adds a plus for this release.
Cristina also harmonizes with herself a lot more on this album than previous outings, making Dark Adrenaline the most vocally-focused Lacuna Coil album to date, in my estimation. A good part of this may also be due to the fact that Dark Adrenaline was produced by Don Gilmore; the sound engineer behind Linkin Park and Bullet For My Valentine. The album is about as lean and musically polished as one would expect from an industry heavy-weight, and recording rules of thumb being what they are, (for better or worse) this leads to the vocal tracks being the most prominent. I'll come back to this in the next section.
Apart from the lead single, a few stand out tracks are "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow," which calls to mind a somewhat darker and heavier version of Karmacode's "In Visible Light." I'm not a huge R.E.M. fan, but Lacuna Coil covers "Losing My Religion" adequately, putting their own spin on a song I wouldn't have naturally associated with their sound. "My Spirit" wanders casually through minor-to-major chord progressions delightfully and true to Lacuna Coil form. It's a bit more subdued than the rest of the album, vaguely trippy, but an enjoyable track nonetheless. Also on the less aggressive side of things is "End of Time," which acts like this album's power ballad.
Musically speaking - without regard to the sound engineering of the album - Dark Adrenaline is on the more aggressive end of the musical spectrum. Their lyrics skew a bit more to the in-your-face and edgy than, say, 2009's Shallow Life - and the album is stronger for it.
While the music itself may be more aggressive, the mixing and mastering employed has robbed it of most of its power. Again, while making sure vocal tracks are the strongest and most clear during recording is technically the correct thing to do, it's not my personal preference. I like my metal albums - both the extremely heavy and the less so - to be a bit more guitar oriented, and Dark Adrenaline can't really be described that way as a whole. "Trip the Darkness" is about as heavy as the album ever gets, which isn't to disparage that track; it's one of my all-time favorite Lacuna Coil moments thus far. But as the lead single, I expected the rest of the album to reflect that song's approach and it just doesn't. I kept feeling like each subsequent song needed to be turned up to get a better grip on what the guitars were doing.
There's something very very traditional about this album. And by that I mean that rhythmic structure is as predictable as they come. Almost the entire album features that radio-rock stop/start rhythmic riffing, and drummer Cristiano Mozzati rarely bothers do much more than keep syncopated time with the occasional back beat. This wouldn't have been such a drawback for me in and of itself, but just by way of example the percussive experimentation on Karmacode actually help me personally in my growing understanding of rhythmic structure. So to have an album six years later that doesn't really showcase any progression or evolution was a bit underwhelming.
Much like Shallow Life, I have to call this one a hit-and-miss. There are some songs on here that are new all-time favorites from the band; and there are songs on here that I probably won't bother to listen to again.
Lacuna Coil hasn't "sold out" by any means; the fundamentals of their music are still very much in place. But on Dark Adrenaline it felt as though those fundamentals took a back seat to a more "professional" overall production.
Karmacode is the definitive Lacuna Coil album, for me. It's riff-heavy, somewhat dark and atmospheric, and features the harmonic/melodic minor chord interplay throughout. Those elements still appear on Dark Adrenaline, but they're much less the rule.
The band's musical talent is still undeniable, and I'd be willing to bet that every one of these songs sounds amazing live - with everything turned up to 11. But after being run through the mixing and mastering process that favors a less aggressive approach, Dark Adrenaline doesn't feel quite as dark or amped-up as the title might imply.
I'm still a huge Lacuna Coil fan, I'll still wear my Lacuna Coil shirt with pride, and I'll still rush to see them live at the next opportunity I get. But Dark Adrenaline just isn't the album it could have been, and it's certainly not the album I was hoping it would be.