Metal lived the COVID-19 emergency through Lacuna Coil before we lived it ourselves. In February, their homeland of Italy became the worst-hit in the world after China and South Korea, with case numbers rising rapidly every day. On March 1, Cristina Scabbia posted a patriotic photo of herself in a restaurant, hands in the prayer position, with the caption: ‘Italy is made of history, priceless art, great food culture, breathtaking landscapes and creativity and I am in LOVE with my beautiful country.’
The next day, Lacuna Coil cancelled shows in Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore and Jakarta, causing a backlash from some fans who didn’t understand the severity of the infection rate. For the band, it was a horrible shock and a disorientating time as the situation worsened. They were unable to leave their houses except to buy food.
“We went to South America for a tour, and when we came back, at the airport, they were taking our temperatures. We were like, ‘What’s going on?’ Because of course we’d heard news, but we didn’t really know what was going on in Italy,” remembers Cristina. “Within the week, they put us on lockdown because of the numbers of deaths, and people going to hospital in a very bad condition. It was absolutely surreal, because I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
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They’d heard about COVID-19 spreading through China, but it seemed like something that was happening at a remove; something across the globe that wouldn’t have an immediate impact on their own lives.
“We were feeling lost, because there was no solution. There was a lot of confusion, because of course we didn’t know anything about this virus, and the hospitals were collapsing, and no other countries were going through this but China,” says Cristina. “So something that felt so far from us, in the news, was all of a sudden in our homes.”
We all know what happened next. Even as we watched Italy’s battle, it still felt localised, until tour cancellations increased in frequency and the UK went into its own lockdown on March 23, along with many other territories around the same time. Swathes of the music industry came to a grinding halt. By this point, Cristina was well into isolation and had come to terms with her new situation. The band were only five months into the cycle for ninth album Black Anima, and were frustrated at losing momentum. For her, the solution was to put music aside for a spell and turn her thoughts inwards.
“Some colleagues did some home recordings, but I didn’t want to connect music to this lockdown, because to me, this lockdown was something negative,” she explains. “I wanted to do something different. I said, ‘This is my chance to take some time for me. Not Cristina from Lacuna Coil, but just Cristina.”
Cristina set about doing the kind of pastimes that have since become lockdown clichés: making bread and pasta, gaming, exercising and drawing, as well as participating in some band-related Instagram Live chats – including a couple with Within Temptation’s Sharon del Adel and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe. For someone who often spends months on the road, and has been through a great deal of tragedy in the last few years (Black Anima touches on the breakdown of a previous relationship and the loss of her parents), it was chance to pause and exhale.
She signed up to Twitch, joining an emerging rockstar livestreaming community featuring the likes of Trivium’s Matt Heafy, Tesseract’s Dan Tompkins and Devin Townsend. She’s long been a gamer and one of metal’s most authentic internet personalities, always willing to share silly memes, post makeup-free selfies and share her innermost thoughts, so the move made sense for her, and she’s spent hours chatting to fans – not to mention unboxing gems like the none-more-metal Doom Eternal.
“When I was looking for an alternative to my usual socials, I thought that Twitch was the perfect platform for me. I am a talker, I am very spontaneous, I don’t really mind what people might think about me if I’m not perfect and dressed up,” she says. “And it is really exciting, because I took the chance to learn something new.”
Exercise has also become a priority; she began making a conscious effort to work out, following a cardio programme online. It initially calmed her COVID-19 anxiety, and has given her new strength and flexibility. When her lockdown birthday rolled around, she spoke publicly of her gratitude at being in good shape at the age of 48. She’s at pains, though, to stress that “it was not about losing weight, it was more about mobility” - after all, she’s a huge fan of her country’s incredible cuisine.
“I don’t want anybody to think that now I’m a pro athlete, and ‘Oh my god I’m working out every day.’ It’s just, something in between,” she says. “Do some movement, so this way you can be able to eat a pizza and not feel guilty, because you will not have to change the size of your pants!”
Thankfully, the future looks brighter than it did in March. Talking to us today from her boyfriend’s restaurant an hour north-west of Milan, where they have just finishing painting the ceiling, Cristina acknowledges her “very surreal break” but sounds optimistic about what comes next. Lacuna Coil might not have been making new music during this period, but they have been working on two top-secret things that will be revealed in due course.
“One of them will be a celebration that we’re thinking about next year, something very special,” Cristina says cryptically. “And one is supposed to happen this year, but I can’t spoil anything. But we’ll let you know!”