It may give you a headache to discover that 17 years have passed since LACUNA COIL released their breakthrough album, "Comalies". Aside from the enduring novelty of an Italian metal band enjoying any kind of meaningful global success in the first place (noted with sincere apologies to Italy and its many great metal bands, of course), the band's mastery of a certain strain of highly melodic but intermittently brutal gothic metal on that record enabled them to streak ahead of their peers, turning co-vocalist Cristina Scabbia into a contemporary metal icon in the process.
At this point, LACUNA COIL are more popular than ever, the instinctive move they made towards more alt-metal territory for 2006's "Karmacode" having done them absolutely no harm at all. A few mild detours aside, the band have stuck fairly rigidly to that successful formula ever since, buoyed by the fact that no one else does this stuff with anything like the same flair or passion. But while diehard fans will undoubtedly be delighted by "Black Anima", it's increasingly hard to approach the band's ninth album anticipating anything other than more of the long-established same.
As ever, this all sounds incredible. LACUNA COIL have continually upgraded and tweaked their sound over the years, but subtly enough that no one's metaphorical horses have freaked out. "Black Anima" sounds very expensive and almost overburdened with sonic ideas, but Scabbia and vocal cohort Andrea Ferro continue to provide their comrades with a very emotional human core. In fact, Ferro stamps his identity on proceedings more convincingly here than ever before, and some of the strongest moments are dominated by his scorched-earth roar. With shades of SOILWORK's gleaming, melody-powered bombast, both "Layers of Time" and "Under the Surface" seem to be forging fresh connections with metal's dark side, while "Veneficium" is an opulent exercise in symphonic melodrama and menace, audibly relished by both vocalists.
Overall, there is a discernible dip into darker, heavier territory here, and it's a move that suits the band perfectly at this mid-to-late stage in the game. The problem is that "Black Anima" would have been far more impressive if its creators had taken just a few more risks. Many of these songs are all too easily filed under "as expected": the tempos, the melodies, the almost blinding levels of sonic gloss, the omnipresent suggestion of something darker and more intense that never really materializes, the aforementioned "Veneficium" aside. In truth, LACUNA COIL are almost impossible to dislike and "Black Anima" is a solid, spirited effort, albeit one with frequent flashes of the more intense and idiosyncratic album they could have made. Maybe they'll get weird next time.