Lacuna Coil

Shallow Life

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Having sold a few hundred thousand copies of each of their most recent albums in the U.S. alone (quite rarefied levels of unit-shifting for an independent heavy metal label like Century Media), Lacuna Coil was undoubtedly under pressure to deliver another winner while preparing 2009's Shallow Life -- the Italians' fifth full-length in a decade-plus career. With so much riding on the results, a promising preview single called "Spellbound" was released a few months ahead of the album, and it suggested a determined return to the dramatic, if ever concise, brand of goth-metal (tickled by reserved symphonics and electronics) of the band's breakthrough opus, Comalies. But instead, it turned out to be one of just a few exceptions (see also "Not Enough" and "I Like It") amid Shallow Life's concerted push towards ever more accessible, radio-friendly, and, despite the band's best efforts, homogenized electro-rock. For starters, there's the dizzying array of electronics absolutely dousing the album's initial couplet of "Survive" and "I Won't Tell You," and later the vaguely Depeche Mode-like "The Pain" and the title track's tepid balladry, to the point of subduing the higher and most sustained reaches of Cristina Scabbia's vocals -- or else layering them with counterpoint soccer chants in a bid to replicate Karmacode's top single, "Our Truth." And then there's the prevalent guitar tone utilized throughout, which will have listeners scrambling for their CD booklets to see if nu-metal's most infamous producer, Ross Robinson, was involved in the sessions. He wasn't, but most all of his trademark textures sure were (see the particularly painful "The Maze"), courtesy of his disciple Don Gilmore, who is best known for his work with Linkin Park and certainly earned his paycheck for these sessions if the directive was transforming Lacuna Coil into Evanescence. The primary conclusion being that songwriting versatility alone does not risk-taking music make, if those disparate elements have all of their edges sanded down, rather than serrated enough to leave indelible scars on the listener's memory banks. (Having said that, we should mention the gorgeous, densely orchestrated ballad, "Wide Awake," which will hardly convince the extreme metal masses to lay down their torches, but definitely harks back to Lacuna's most celebrated releases.) In all fairness, Shallow Life, does come on very much as expected based on Lacuna Coil's preceding career arc, and many observers would argue that backtracking isn't the solution either if a band is to prosper in the long run -- but it may have to be here, given the underwhelming sales and vociferous critical backlash bestowed upon the album.

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