“10 years ago no one in the US would bought an album by an Italian metal band. The idea doesn’t seem so strange now”: how Lacuna Coil served up a 2000s classic with Karmacode and went global in the process

A posed studio shot of Lacuna Coil in 2006
(Image credit: Press/Century Media)

Lacuna Coil had established themselves as one of goth-metal’s leading lights in the early 2000s, becoming the biggest metal band their home country of Italy had ever produced in the process. In 2006, Metal Hammer joined them in Venice ahead of the release of their fourth album, Karmacode, to talk fame, food and Ozzfest

It’s approaching midnight on a freezing Venice evening. The six members of Milan six piece Lacuna Coil (these being Cristina Scabbia on female vocals, Andrea Ferro on male vocals, Marco Biazzi and Cristiano Migliore on guitars, bassist Marco Coti Zelati and drummer Cristiano Mozzati) are showing their English guests just what it means to be Italian. That is, they’re eating food and gesticulating wildly. Sat around a large circular table on the top floor of Bacara, a lovely restaurant in this stunning if cryogenically cold city, a late night bite to eat has become a festival of food and wine. Bottles of white and red are ordered; starters are ordered, a first course of pasta is ordered, a main course of meat is ordered, sea bream and tuna steaks are ordered; then deserts, tiramasu and creme caramel; then coffee and liquers.

We’re at that point where eating becomes an art form, nothing less than an expression of being alive.

“I love food,” says Cristina. “I love eating. I love dinners like this.”

Certainly the most photogenic person you’re likely to meet in any given week, Cristina, as she speaks here, does not look quite as you’d imagine she might. Tonight she looks like a tomboy. She wears no make-up, and her hair is lifted from her shoulders. She wears trousers, trainers and a hooded Independent sweatshirt. She’s a little combative, nobody’s fool. She’ll pick up on things that are said, she’ll disagree, she’ll argue the point (the toss, even). “No, no, no,” she’ll say. “That’s wrong,” she’ll say. “That’s not right,” she’ll say. Frowning, smiling, disagreeing, laughing, it’s very difficult on a first meeting not to like Cristina Scabbia. It’s also very difficult to imagine her not getting her own way.

What would you do, I say at one point, if I asked you a question about being a woman in rock?

“I’d scream,” she says. And then, as if to make the point, she screams.

Lacuna Coil at the 2006 Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards

Lacuna Coil at the 2006 Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards (Image credit: Jo Hale/Getty Images)

Half an hour later, she’s chucking snowballs about. It’s 1am in the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Place). It is so cold that in the shadows brass monkeys are ringing directory enquiries to find the telephone number of a local welder. Buildings so old they make Westminster Abbey look like the Milton Keynes Bowl. Buildings lean in as the snow pours down, a sight of such splendour that it leaves you short of breath. Venice might well be sinking, but it doesn’t half raise your spirits. With no electric lighting to be seen, and no cars on the streets, the sight that meets your eye could be from any day in the last 400 years.

As the various members of Lacuna Coil go skidding about the place, falling over, rolling in the snow, Cristina is packing snow into her mischievous little hands. Circling and watchful like a seagull, she scurries about, searching out her targets. Her bandmates need to be on their guard. If they’re not, this will happen…

She throws a snowball that hits her co-vocalist, Andrea Ferro, flush on the side of the face. An explosion of hilarity and foreign swearing follows. The musicians laugh, comfortable in each others’ company, friends as well as colleagues. An unlikely collection of foreigners who are knocking on the door of being actually, properly, famous. Cristina runs away fast. Giggling like a little girl.

“Does our success surprise me?” she asks, repeating the question, trying it out for size. “Does it surprise me? No, surprise would be the wrong word. Our success doesn’t surprise me, because I think we’ve earned it. It’s not like we came out one day and then the very next day we expected people to know the name Lacuna Coil. It wasn’t like that at all. We worked very hard. We didn’t have big videos and a big marketing campaign behind us, we did it the old fashioned way. We went out and worked. We toured all over the place. We toured with Moonspell, we toured with P.O.D., we toured with Type O Negative, we toured with Anthrax. What we relied upon was touring. It was getting out there and playing for people. And people would see us, they would like us and then the next time we came to town they would bring their friends. And then their friends would bring their friends and so on. And that’s how it’s grown.”

Cristina is sitting opposite, to the right. Her bandmate and former lover Marco Coti Zelati is sitting next to her. Both are sat in ornate armchairs on the second floor of a small and lovely Venice hotel. The bay windows to our left open out not onto the street but to a canal. The last of the daylight is bleeding from the sky. Marco Coti Zelati is just a heartbeat away from being completely asleep.

“Do you see him!” exclaims Cristina. “Look at him, he’s actually asleep!”

Coti Zelati lifts his head up from the heel of his left hand, quickly, as if someone has just triggered a rape alarm next to his ear. “Shit!” he says. “I was! I was almost asleep!”

“Can we have some coffee, please?”

They have, to be fair to them, been at it all day. And Cristina has been at it most of the night as well. She returned from her four course meal and snowball fight last night, spent an hour and a half applying make-up and then at 3am was photographed for the cover of this issue of Metal Hammer. Just a couple of hours later, she and her band were out in the streets of Venice, at 8:30am, having their pictures taken in conditions so cold, so hostile that all you can do is say “Jesus.” Over and over again, “Jesus.”

It’s stopped snowing but the wind has teeth that cut like piano wire. A confusion of alleyways, bridges, tunnels, cobbles and canals, Venice is two parts the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen and one part 15th century Death Star.

The boys in the band are dressed in black. Their female singer is dressed in a very becoming but hardly seasonal white dress.

“I like to look feminine,” she says. “I like to look sexy. I’m a woman, so why should I copy a man? Why should I wear combat trousers and a t-shirt and boots, why should I look rough just because I’m in a metal band? It’s good to put on nice clothes, it’s good to put on make-up, it’s good to look good.”

Do you ever feel there are dangers to using sex as a selling point?

“Ha!” she laughs, as if this was actually funny. “Let me tell you something a good friend of mine said, they said that I would know that Lacuna Coil had made it when people started talking shit about us. When people talk about us using sex to sell ourselves, that’s them talking shit about us. The idea that I would ever do something that I’m not comfortable doing is just crazy. That’s how I control it, whether I’m comfortable or not. Because it’s impossible to look sexy or attractive if you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing. Plus, to say that people will like us just because they think the singer of the band is hot is an insult to our fans. They don’t listen to us because they find me attractive, they listen to us because they like our music. To say that because they like me means they like us is the same as saying they’re stupid. And our fans are not stupid.”

When some of your fans propose to you, are you ever tempted to say yes?

“No!” she says. “Of course not. [The fans] don’t know me, they just think they do. They know my face, my voice, my music, but they don’t know me. Some of the people who propose to me are 12-years-old, of course I’m not going to marry them.”

Can I ask you a personal question?

“You can try.”

What’s it like being in a band with a former lover?

Cristina Scabbia and Marco Coti Zelati look at each other and, for the first time in our interview, begin speaking in Italian. As they do this, the pair appear synchronised. Not that they didn’t already. Over dinner last night, the tiny tics of former intimacies were evident in the way that every so often he would feed her food. The pair of them speaking in their native language now doesn’t appear rude, but it does feel necessary.

 “I think it’s awesome,” says she.


“I don’t want to say any more because it’s private. It’s our business, it’s not your business.”

“When we split up we didn’t see each other for 15 days,” says he, in response to the theory that even when lovers see each other after a split it doesn’t usually take the form of going around the world in a big shiny bus.

“When you share a lot of years with a person it’s great to be able to carry on spending time with them even if your situation changes,” says Scabbia, her final word on the subject.

Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia onstage in 2006

Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia onstage in 2006 (Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Music, music… we can’t go wrong talking about music. Lacuna Coil are about to land with a new album, Karmacode, their fourth. Following cold on the heels of 2002’s ‘Comalies’, the Coil’s latest outing sees a band who are truly finding their stride. The songs are stronger, the playing more confident, the pacing more controlled, the presentation more complete. If you liked what the band had done before then you’ll almost certainly like this. If you didn’t like Lacuna Coil in the past, you’ll likely warm to them now. The whole enterprise has the feeling of a band who have finally arrived.

“We are delighted with the album,” says Marco Coti Zelati. “We worked so hard on it I can’ t even begin to tell you. We really looked at what we were doing, we really studied the aspects of our sound. We worked out what bits we liked, what bits we didn’t like, and we worked hard to make sure we made every note on the album count. We’ve toured everywhere since our last album came out and in that time we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a band. This is the best album we could have possibly made.”

Do you think it’ll make you famous?

Now Cristina is smiling, nicely: “I have no idea,” she says. “We’ll have to see, won’t we?” 

She was born on the 6th of June 1972 in the industrial Italian city of Milan. She has two older brothers and one older sister. The Scabbias were “a very tight family”, they were “very much in love with each other.” None of the household happened to be musicians but nonetheless melodies were passed down to the youngest child. Scabbia’s sister listened to traditional Italian artists. One of her brothers listened to punk and to Iggy Pop. Her other brother listened to the progressive rock sounds of Genesis and the classic thump of Led Zeppelin. All of this filtered down to the youngest Scabbia, as Cristina’s tastes grew and developed. 

Still, at 20 years of age she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, what she wanted to be. She was young, she was “in no hurry.” She didn’t want to be a singer, per se, a person who might one day be interviewed for a cover feature in an English rock magazine. But she had been singing as a session vocalist, anonymous work that paid the rent, plus a little bit more. Then one evening she met Andrea  and Marco in a Milanese metal pub called Midnight and the rest has been her future. The two men – actually, boys, this was “11 or 12 years ago now” – were in a band called Ethereal. Ethereal slowly became Lacuna Coil and Cristina became their vocalist. Slowly, if not surely, they were on their way.

“Would I say we had chemistry right away?” she says. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”

She might say it now. Through releases such as In A Reverie, Unleashed Memories, and Comalies, Lacuna Coil have blossomed outward and upward. To date the band have sold close to a million albums throughout the world. Given Italian metal’s lack of pedigree to this point, this is no small beer. As part of the second stage package at last year’s Ozzfest caravan, the band found themselves the second most popular act at the onsite CD stall each and every day. They were beaten only by Slipknot, whose third album, Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), was a new release that summer. Lacuna Coil, meanwhile, were selling Comalies, an album that at that point was over two years old. Every day at the Ozzfest the band would tread the boards of the second stage, sometimes at 2pm, sometimes at 9.30am. Every day they were applauded and adored. Not once, says Cristina, even in the masculine fleshpots of middle America, did any of the crowds treat her with sexist hostility.

“They respected me as a performer, as a woman,” she says. “Not once were they disrespectful of me.”

A decade ago, US and UK audiences would have found the idea of an Italian metal band laughable. But today you’re treated as seriously as any American group. Why might that be?

“I don’t know,” says the singer. “But I do know that people’s tastes change. I know that 10 years ago no one in America would have considered buying an album by an Italian metal band. They’d listen to bands who were American and sometimes bands who were from England. And also people in [mainland] Europe could be very narrow-minded as well. A lot of them would hate American bands just because they were American. But things have changed now, and I think our success is an example of that. The idea that an Italian band can sell a quarter of a million albums in the US doesn’t seem so strange now.”

Is it nice to be the recipients of that?

“Of course it is.”

She looks at her watch. Sheepishly she explains that they – her and her bandmate – have to go. The rest of the band are waiting downstairs in the hotel lobby. They have to catch a train home to Milano. Marco plans to spend the whole of tomorrow sleeping. Cristina, though, has more work to do, a magazine to talk to, has photographs to stand for. Then the band are off to Paris to play a warm-up concert. Then they’ll be coming to London, for a concert in that capital city. Gearing up for the release of Karmacode, singles will be released and videos will be filmed. Then they’re off to America, for a month, supporting Rob Zombie on his US tour. Then they’ll be European tours, more American tours, more American tours, more…

More everything.

“This year is going to be crazy,” she says. “Who knows when our work for this album will be done. Who knows where it’ll take us.”

When you think about it, are you delighted or do you think, ‘Oh my God’?

“No,” she says, as answering the world’s most ridiculous question. “No, I’m delighted. This is everything we’ve worked toward. Everything we’ve ever wanted is happening.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer issue 151

Ian Winwood
Freelance Writer

Barnsley-born author and writer Ian Winwood contributes to The Telegraph, The Times, Alternative Press and Times Radio, and has written for Kerrang!, NME, Mojo, Q and Revolver, among others. His favourite albums are Elvis Costello's King Of America and Motorhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. His favourite books are Thomas Pynchon's Vineland and Paul Auster's Mr Vertigo. His own latest book, Bodies: Life and Death in Music, is out now on Faber & Faber and is described as "genuinely eye-popping" by The Guardian, "electrifying" by Kerrang! and "an essential read" by Classic Rock. He lives in Camden Town.