omparisons between Evanescence and Lacuna Coil are inevitable, as both play goth metal and pit siren-voiced female singers against rougher male vocals. Evanescence, however, has sold gazillions of copies of its one major label album, while Lacuna Coil is on metal label Century Media, and has built up a discography now spanning four full-lengths. Thus, it's easy to dismiss Evanescence as the watered-down version of Lacuna Coil's real thing. But Lacuna Coil, too, isn't exactly obscure: 2002's Comalies was Century Media's best-selling album ever, with over 500,000 copies sold worldwide, and the band's new album, Karmacode, debuted at #28 in the Billboard Top 200. Karmacode is still metal, but it's safe and wastes the band's considerable talents. Perhaps Evanescence and Lacuna Coil aren't that far apart after all.
Lacuna Coil ("empty spiral") formed in Milan, Italy in the mid-'90s and released debut full-length In a Reverie in 1999. The album was amazingly accomplished, featuring lush goth/doom metal in the vein of Paradise Lost, but with powerful, soaring vocals by singer Cristina Scabbia. With stronger production and more memorable songs, follow-up Unleashed Memories was the high point of Lacuna Coil's catalogue. On Comalies, the band's sound changed: while still heavy, the songs were all about hooks. "Heaven's a Lie" became a massive hit on MTV2, Fuse, and radio; however, every other song sounded like it. With pumped-up, glossy production, the whole album felt like one long chorus. Karmacode sounds different, but it suffers from the same flaws.
The highlight of Karmacode is a recurring Middle Eastern tonality ("Phrygian dominant," otherwise known as "Hava Nagila") with flatted seconds and raised thirds. The band always had this side to it, as "Swamped" from Comalies demonstrates, but here it’s emphasized. Metal commonly has riffs with flatted seconds, which sound "evil" or "exotic," but few bands have vocalists like Scabbia who can actually sing these melodies. Her vocals, though, get lost among overdriven guitars and overbearing keyboards. The band smothers its cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" in symphonic synths and superfluous harmonies, thus completely missing the point of the song. Occasionally Scabbia cuts through, like on "Our Truth," and when her vocals are multi-tracked, the results can be incredible. Otherwise, the band wastes chance after chance to explore the dark space Layne Staley's harmonies opened on Alice in Chains' "Angry Chair."
Part of the problem is that the melodies are spicy, but the riffs are pedestrian, almost nu-metal. The tasty, unexpected solo in "The Game" only emphasizes how under-utilized the guitarists are—this keyboard-choked album could have used more textural disturbance. Add in annoying, distracting male vocals and shiny, muscular production, and the result sounds like a million bucks when it shouldn't have. Strip away the keyboards and bombast, and let the lady sing.