Review Summary: Some might not like another change in direction, but this one suits them better.
For the past few years Lacuna Coil has been a band in transition. The first signs of this transition were displayed on Comalies
, but it wasn’t until Karamcode
that it became blatantly obvious. Karmacode
presented a band struggling to move beyond minor league success even if it meant losing their own individuality. It was an album that blatantly stole from nu metal and discarded much of what had made them previously appealing. Apparently the band didn’t achieve their desired results because Shallow Life
continues their search for a more profitable identity but this time they’ve gone in a different, more logical, direction. Shallow Life
finds the band dropping the nu metal of Karmacode
and moving towards mainstream metal similar to Linkin Park’s current sound - only instead of a rapper Lacuna Coil have Cristina Scabbia and instead of a whiney emo-boy they have a tone-deaf Italian.
All jokes aside, it would be easy to focus on how the band continue to be too reliant on other bands’ techniques but to do so would be to sell this album short. Suffice it to say that they have definitely moved in a more mainstream direction, but that they have finally found their niche as well. A look at the band’s past should remind that they’ve never really had great riffs, powerful vocals (male vocals, anyway), or engaging atmospheres; they’ve only ever succeeded on the strength of Cristina’s voice (and looks) and a penchant for writing moderately catchy tunes, and those are the qualities emphasized on this album. That’s not to say that the band has totally moved away from heavier sections (as the opening to “I Survive” proves); it’s just that they’re now intermingled with melodic, unobtrusive riffs that take a back seat to strong choruses.
By focusing on the chorus as the apex of each song, the band has managed to create some of the strongest hooks of their career. It’s the strong choruses that save a few songs such as “I Like It” with its asinine lyrics and weak verses, and make them into something that’s still worth listening to. Another way the band have managed to accentuate their strengths is through the near-constant use of subtle keyboard melodies and sound effects. These stylish flourishes work in tandem with the guitar riffs and strong choruses to create songs that are memorable while still retaining the slightest edge. Of course, some may see these influences as shortcomings but they really have helped the band move forward.
The band’s actual shortcoming is the same one that they’ve had since their inception, the weak vocals of Andrea Ferro. Andrea still delivers his vocals the same way that he always has - in an uncontrolled, atonal shout that lacks any power or grace. In his defense he does sound better than on previous albums, but that probably has more to do with a larger budget to clean up his vocal deficiencies than any actual increase in ability. Having said that, the few times where he is allowed to take the spotlight with minimal musical accompaniment, such as on “This Maze”, he is absolutely terrible; apparently no amount of studio tricks can help him completely. Much less of a limitation is that the band is obviously still getting used to their new style, causing them to occasionally introduce awkward lyrics or musical sections but they’re never bad enough to kill a song.
Lacuna Coil’s shift into mainstream metal will probably be met with some backlash by long-time fans, but most of it will be completely unwarranted. The band has only ever been good at a few things and deciding to emphasize those elements is a completely logical step. This focus has resulted in a good collection of memorable songs that end up being an enjoyable listen. There will be obvious complaints about a lack of heavy riffs, gothic influences and whatever else they’ve discarded, but the fact remains that they weren’t good at those things in the first place. At the end of the day, this album might not be what the change-resistant fans wanted to hear but it was necessary and more importantly, they pull it off quite well.