For two decades now, Lacuna Coil have been one of the most consistent voices in heavy metal. Since their debut album ‘In A Reverie’ in 1999, they’ve averaged a new record every two or three years; always ambitious, always as gothic as Hallowe’en in a bat roost, always abrasive… and at the heart of it, always featuring the gargantuan lungs of singer Cristina Scabbia.
Surprisingly for a band so far into their career, new record, ‘Black Anima’, their ninth, contains the best songs the Italian band have ever committed to tape. It’s a deeply personal work, with recent events in Cristina’s life inspiring much of its content. “This isn’t just a heavy record in terms of it’s sound,” says Andrea Ferro, who shares vocals in the band with Cristina. “The words are heavy, the tone of the record is heavy, it’s a very emotional record. I think this and our last record are the most personal records Cristina has made…”
NME thought it time we asked Cristina about the making of ‘Black Anima’, a record that explores sadness and pain in unflinching detail – but also that revitalises the veteran stars.
Cristina, you’re recently described your new album as ‘the heaviest and darkest’ album you’ve ever made. Metal bands always say this. Do you really mean it or is it just something to say?
“We really mean it. I’m even more convinced of it the more I listen to what we made. I think our last record [2016’s] ‘Delirium’ was heading in that direction and ‘Black Anima’ is a natural progression from that record…”
You’ve been doing this now since 1994. Normally bands get more mellow the longer they go on…
“Well, I certainly don’t feel like that as a person. The older I get the more curious I get. I feel like going from ‘Delirium’ to ‘Black Anima’ taught me so much about myself. I lost both my parents in a very short period of time and they literally were the world to me. We’d talk every day. Multiple times a day. It was so shocking to me to lose them…”
I’m sorry that happened to you Cristina…
“It happens. They lived a long happy life and I was lucky to have them for so long. But I have realised that I am much stronger than I thought I was. For years before I was trying to prepare myself for it happening. I was trying to visualise how I’d cope. I used to tell myself what it would be like. I thought I’d lock myself indoors, shut out my friends and be completely depressed – and then I learned that you do just go on. You have to carry the torch. I feel bulletproof now. I’ve lost the most important thing in the world to me, and I’m still here.”
In all the time you’ve been doing this, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen? Being in a band now is so different to how it would have been starting out in 1994…
“Everything is so much more complicated. Social media has made everything so fucked up. Everyone wants to look beautiful and perfect and smiley and rich and that’s just a distorted version of anyone’s reality. I think people dug deeper before these times. Now everything is so transient. A band release a new single and in another two days another band releases a new single and the previous song is forgotten. I’m sick of hearing about views and numbers and streams and… shit. I think there’s poetry behind the creation of music and songs – and there’s nothing poetic about social media.”
Lacuna Coil come from Milan, Italy – not a country famed for its export of heavy metal…
“Well it was just so different back then. We used to send cassettes with our songs on to record labels. No email, no smartphones… I still can’t believe how lucky we were to be noticed – this little band from Italy – by our label, Century Media, who we’re with even now. We were the first band they signed outside of their circle in France. We were so surprised to get a call from them. Metal is, even now, a real underground genre in Italy. There’s a few more bands now – we’re good friends with the band Fleshgod Apocalypse – but the scene is still very underdeveloped. There’s not many opportunities for bands to break out. The radios don’t play metal, the clubs are weird sizes – loads of 500/600 capacity venues in Milan just closed down, so venues that are left are either too small or arenas, so it’s hard for touring bands to find anywhere to play.”
This is a question that separates the progressives from the old farts. Were things better then?
“Ummmmmmmmm… Yes and no. I think things were more exciting back then, because there was just less of everything. Things that have largely been eradicated now, like waiting for the release of a record, have been lost – and these were great things! I miss queueing up outside record stores! I miss patience! Everyone wants everything immediately now, and I don’t think that’s always good for you. I think there was probably more respect for music as art too…”
Would you like me to warm your slippers by the fire, Cristina?
“Yes, well, the good thing about the present times is that bands can access a bigger audience easier. I would have loved Lacuna Coil to have had access to something like YouTube in the beginning. The idea you can form a band, record a song, upload it and someone in Australia can be listening to that song the same day is still mind-blowing to me. There’s just more chances. More opportunities to showcase. This is a great thing – I just wish it all wasn’t such a clusterfuck! I think the idea of bands having 25-year careers now is quite unlikely.”
What it sounds like to these ears, Cristina, is you’re looking for music to have more permanence than it does right now…
“I think there’s something in that, though I’m just frustrated with how much music has to compete with right now, really. There’s so much noise competing with people for their attention. Why is everyone trying to go viral by kicking a bottle top off a water bottle?”
Can you kick a bottle top off a water bottle Cristina?
“No I cannot. I haven’t tried. But I get it. People want to be entertained. Little fixes of entertainment. That’s what we’re competing with. To be something more.”
How do you do that, though?
“Well we’re trying to do things in a quite old-fashioned way. We’re trying to write records, not songs. On the new record there’s an intro and an outro, and you should try to enjoy the record in its entirety. We’re trying to get an hour from people to lay down on their bed, close their eyes and come on a journey with us. That’s the goal. We like to try to add a visual element to our records too. This time we’ve made tarot cards with the record, which I think suits it because it’s a very – how do you say? – esoteric record, in a spiritual way. There’s a card for each song, designed by the artist Micah Ulrich. I don’t really believe that tarot can tell the future, but I do think they’re a good visual to show where you’re at in your life.”
What else did you take inspiration from making the record?
“There’s a book we read that we found inspiring – it was the spark that led to ‘Black Anima’ really. It’s called The Physics Of Angels [Full title: Exploring The Realm Where Science And Physics Meet, by Rupert Sheldrake] which is a conversation between a theologist and a scientist. It got us thinking about why people need to believe in a protecting presence – where does that come from? It inspired a lot of the album’s artwork and theme, and even a few of the songs.”
Which side of the fence do you fall on Cristina? Are you team science or team theology?
“Science. 100%. Actually, let’s call it 80%. I still understand the spiritual part and I do hope there is something in us that lasts. I want to believe my loved ones are still around me in the form of energy, but I don’t have any proof. That stops me from blindly believing. Obviously Italy is a very religious country. We have the Pope. But while I grew up going to church – my parents were believers – I never did believe. I used to just be confused why I had to go to church every week. I didn’t understand why people didn’t behave like they said they did in church. I always thought it was more important to be a good human being, to be a respectful human being, without any fear of God attached to it.”
Before we part ways, I just wanted to say that my assessment of ‘Black Anima’ after living with it for a while, is this is absolutely a record made by a woman who is living with an unbelievable amount of pain…
“In parts, absolutely. There is a realisation throughout this record that it is sometimes okay to not be okay. I don’t think darkness is wholly negative. We learn who we are in darkness. Sadness is a huge part of life. It’s okay not to be happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m always trying to look for the light in the darkness, but it’s okay to live within the darkness for a bit too. I think when you embrace all the shades of life you can live a happier life than if you deny any of it.”
On a scale of one to ten – ten being very happy, one being very sad – where do you think Cristina Scabbia ranks right now?
“I think I’m on an eight. I’ve been down, but I’m here.”
Lacuna Coil’s new album, ‘Black Anima’, is out (October 11)