A spotlight follows Cristina Scabbia as she makes her way through the crowd. The Lacuna Coil vocalist has just asked fans if they’ll sit down so she can come and sing a song in their midst, and it takes mere seconds for the entire room to oblige.
“Sorry if I kick you. Ciao! Ciao!” she laughs warmly, offering fist bumps to those perched dutifully on the floor, some of whom have travelled across Europe, and from as far as Brazil and Chile, to be here. Moments later, surrounded by camera phones, she sings a beautiful, doomy rendition of The Ghost Woman And The Hunter, a deep cut from third record Comalies, shoulder-to-shoulder with her tearful faithful.
We’re here at Fabrique, a 3,000-capacity venue on the outskirts of Lacuna’s hometown, Milan, to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of that very album. Widely considered to be the band’s masterpiece, it introduced thousands of people to their ethereal gothic sound and the serene/harsh dual vocal attack of Cristina and bandmate Andrea Ferro, setting them on an upward trajectory that, in 2022, shows no sign of slowing down. The retrospective includes Comalies XX, a rewrite that puts a modern spin on the original album, and the band are playing it in full tonight as part of a 26-song set.
“Comalies was the album that changed our career, so we couldn’t put out a remaster or repackaging and let the 20th anniversary just go by without giving the importance that it deserves,” says Cristina, speaking to Hammer over a Zoom call from her “chaotic” nerd den in Milan, four days before the show. Surrounded by toys, posters and games, she admits the combination of playing a hometown show, as well as commemorating Comalies and playing Comalies XX live for the first time, has turned her into a jumble of nerves and excitement. “We were grabbing a coffee and said, ‘Why don’t we rewrite Comalies? With the technologies that we have now, how would it sound?’”
The answer is darker and much heavier. Maintaining the atmospheric qualities of the original while adding a depth and power to their most beloved tracks, there’s a new density at play that’s in no small part due to Andrea’s newly recorded guttural vocals. It’s an approach, he tells us as we sit in a tiny office backstage a few hours before the show, intended to reflect the volatile nature of current society.
“It’s more… desperate,” he says, choosing his words carefully while wincing due to a pulled muscle in his back, which sees him relying on heat patches to get him through the gig. He cites the pandemic, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and pervasive anxiety surrounding the spiralling cost of living as factors that took the music in a grittier direction. Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, politician Giorgia Meloni, whose far right ideologies have alarmed the band, has got closer to becoming Italy’s next Prime Minister. “We wanted extreme music for extreme times.”
The reworked album represents a leap of faith for the band, given fans consider the original to be holy ground. “I’m sure that there will be some that will argue that it should have been ‘left alone’,” says Matt Wrycraft, founder of long-time Lacuna fan forum and website Emptyspiral, who is here seeing the band live for the 119th time. “But the music is still uniquely Lacuna Coil. Their journey continues and I’m always excited to see what happens next.”
For many fans, Comalies was the moment Lacuna transformed into the band they now know and love, developing a unique sound that was far more than the sum of their Paradise Lost and Type O Negative influences.
“The songs were more mature,” remembers Cristina, who says everything aligned musically and visually during the creative process. “We took a lot of time to put together all the clothes, to have a specific image. We started to present as a band, as an army, for the first time.”
The album was written in Milan but recorded, completely analogue, at Woodhouse Studios in Germany. For several months, the band shared a tiny apartment above the offices of their label, Century Media, sleeping in one room in bunk beds. While their bandmates (guitarists Marco Biazzi and Cristiano Migliore, bassist Marco Coti Zelati and drummer Cristiano Mozzati) recorded the music at the studio, Andrea and Cristina worked on lyrics in the apartment, cooking gnocchi from scratch to save money, using tomatoes and oil they’d brought over from Italy.
Comalies was released on October 29, 2002. Cristina doesn’t remember much about her time in the studio, but she can clearly recall the album’s impact. Two songs had immediately stood out from the recording sessions, and would go on to break Lacuna Coil on the world stage. The first was Heaven’s A Lie, the hooky, ethereal single that grabbed the ears of MTV. The second was the sumptuous Swamped, which Andrea tells us initially went by the working title ‘Ramm No More’. “Not many people know that,” he says. “For us it was a mixture of Rammstein and Faith No More.”
Two years after Comalies was released, Lacuna Coil were booked to play Ozzfest 2004 in the US. In an instant, the bands they had listened to for years were suddenly their peers. “We were immediately projected into this new world,” Cristina says, remembering the press conference in Los Angeles she attended that year to promote the tour. “I was sitting near to Judas Priest, Lamb Of God, Sharon and Ozzy. Joey from Slipknot was there. I took a picture with Zakk Wylde, holding me in his arms.” She laughs. “Three surreal days.”
Ozzfest won them legions of new fans. Every date of the run, they continually sold more CDs than any other band, save for headliners Slipknot. Of course, it didn’t hurt that a year earlier Evanescence had crashed the UK and US mainstream with their world-guzzling hit Bring Me To Life, thrusting goth-tinged hard rock into the consciousness of popular culture and redefining the meaning of the female artist inside and outside alternative music. Both Cristina and Andrea agree that the omnipresence of Bring Me To Life represented a huge opportunity for Lacuna Coil to tap into a wider audience.
“It was about time for women to flourish more,” says Cristina. “I was honestly very happy about their success. Even wanting it as much as I could, from Italy we would have never have been able to change the musical world in terms of [bringing in] more females. I was like, ‘Maybe something is really changing. Maybe people are realising that metal is not just, you know, dudes with a denim vest.’”
Despite having little in common musically, other than the fact there was a woman on vocals, Lacuna Coil found themselves incessantly lumped together with other gothic and symphonic-leaning bands such as Within Temptation and Nightwish, by a metal media who seemed determined to stir up drama.
“I read some interviews, and I really hope that they are fake, and one day I’ll meet in person with Amy, and I am sure that she will tell me that they were fakes, in which some [Evanescence] members were actually saying bad things about us,” Cristina continues. “I was just like, ‘We never met. We are not jealous about your success. What’s the point?’ You never know about rumours because they’re 99.9% bullshit.”
Ask Cristina and Andrea what the legacy of Comalies is and they’ll say the same thing: community. And you only need to look at the black-clad queue that has been snaking down the road outside Fabrique since 8am this morning to see their point. “I’ve never known anything else like it,” says long-time fan Dave, who flew from the UK to see the show and has formed many friendships through the band. “The best way to describe it is I think it feels like a warm blanket.”
Yesterday, some of those same fans were treated to a meet-and-greet at MoonHouse Music in Milan – the place where the band wrote Comalies 20 years ago – and a memorabilia showcase, including the priest-like garment worn by Andrea in the Heaven’s A Lie video, a red leather dress that fans will recognise from a million Cristina photoshoots, and even a copy of the first contract proposal the band ever received from Century Media.
“We have a very strong base of fans that have become a family to us,” says Cristina. “We’re really attached to them. We recognise most of them, they write to us and we answer. I can’t see many new bands that have the same luxury.”
The sense of community set in motion by Comalies is palpable later as Lacuna Coil bring their ‘Comalive’ show to an emotional close. Dressed in floor-length black robes and bathed in red light, the band finish on a triumphant Nothing Stands In Our Way, an anthem dedicated to Coilers everywhere. As they lead the room of raised fists through a deafening chant of ‘WE FEAR NOTHING!’, you know in your bones there’s not one soul in the room who doesn’t believe every word. It’s a reminder of just how far the band have come, and a heartfelt invitation to join them for the next 20 years.
Published in Metal Hammer 368. Comalies XX is out now