Cristina Scabbia is emotional. Mid-sentence, she stops and looks down, unable to find the words to express herself. Although, really, she doesn’t need to: the pain is plastered all over her face. Andrea Ferro, the co-vocalist alongside Cristina in Lacuna Coil, looks over at her with concern before trying to pick up the conversation.
“Mental health is something that is so stigmatised,” she says, looking at the floor. “And, having seen the effects of it first hand, we wanted to try and tackle it. Not because it was cool or because we are all so crazy, but because it is such a big problem in the world for so many people to really understand. And the results of it can be… traumatic.”
It’s midweek morning rush hour in London, and Cristina and Andrea have arrived at Hammer HQ at this ungodly time to talk to us about their band’s eighth album, the intriguingly titled Delirium. As they cradle coffee and warmly shake our hand, there’s no inkling as to what’s about to go down. What we do know in advance is that the cover of their new album features a sombre-faced Cristina, dressed in a straitjacket, tracing the title into a fogged-up mirror. It’s a personal and unsettling image.
“This record is a concept album in many ways,” say Andrea. “But, although them characters and stories we tell are fictional, they are inspired by real things.”
Delirium is set in a hospital and each song tells the story of a patient there, with constant references to mental health. Opener The House Of Shame talks about ‘Reducing the stigma’, while the melancholy title track contains the tough words: ’I can’t surrender, I cannot breathe, and I’m still going under’, Cristina’s vocals reaching fever pitch. It’s still Lacuna Coil, but weightier than ever.
“We would love Delirium to be thought of as a place to represent those who are not feeling accepted,” explains Cristina today. “A place for whoever is different or misunderstood. The theme is there throughout; it just tackles many different ideas and feelings. And it was daunting for us. We did a lot of research, both medically and personally, to make sure that we got it right, because as we said, the stigma is so strong that it could either come off cheesy or offensive. And we didn’t want that.” It’s a charge that couldn’t be levelled at Delirium. The most overriding feeling on the album is darkness, and it seems that the things that Cristina and Andrea were exposed to in making this record have left an indelible mark.
“One of the most striking things for me,” begins Andrea with a sigh, “are the photos that we saw of the real patients from old, closed-down asylums, where they were trying to cure people and didn’t really know what they were doing. The way that these people were hunched over, and the look on their faces that were so blank, was more scary than a horror movie. There was no blood or monsters or anything that was there to scare you, but it was terrifying to look into their eyes and see nothing. And those images were a strong inspiration to us when it came to telling these stories, and the way we wanted to look in the artwork.”
Indeed, the artwork of the new album shows the band looking far more sombre than usual, dressed in straitjackets while standing in bleak rooms, inspired by the abandoned sanitoriums they visited. It’s a completely different look to the often bright, colourful and glamorous images normally associated with Lacuna Coil, and it’s also the first time Cristina’s been on a cover since the original version of 1999 debut In A Reverie. It’s clear this album means a lot to her.
“We aren’t the sort of band that sings about pure fantasy; I don’t think that’s ever been our style,” she says. “But, because we had actual experience of these sort of places, it is more real. I’ve been in that situation and I’ve been able to breathe the heaviness of these places, and I just began to think about all the different experiences that these people could have. And for me, there is this parallel between this album and my personal life right now, because there is someone in my family who is suffering mental illness. So I see people trying to cure this problem a lot. I realised that insanity isn’t just confined to a medical condition, it’s everywhere in the little things in everyday life. There are little insanities…”
She stops. You can see Cristina wrestle with the words in her head, probably as hundreds of painful, personal memories flash back to her. It’s obvious that this is still a very raw subject.
“The album is about the many levels ofinsanity that exist in all aspects of life,” picks up Andrea, expanding on the theme, and moving away from individual experience to the universal. “There is a tendency to think that someone insane is this crazy person that is outside of normal society. But we all do things that contribute to our mental health deteriorating, whether it’s staying in a job or relationship that makes us miserable, or suppressing our urges to do the thing that would make us more content. Why would you do that? It’s not healthy. We wanted to examine every aspect of the human psyche.”
As well as taking risks with their subject matter two decades into their career, they’ve also taken a left turn with their music. Losing three members in the past two years left Marco ‘Maki’ Coti-Zelati to take on guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and synths, with new drummer Ryan Blake Folden taking to the kit and current touring guitarist Diego Cavallotti recording some parts. Aside from that, Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy guest-solos on the song Downfall. One listen to first single The House Of Shame, with Andrea’s fierce screams, reveals a far more aggressive band than the one we’ve been used to.
“It just made sense,” shrugs Cristina. “We’ve said how heavy this album is thematically, and we wanted to reflect that musically. We never felt we had to remain in this one sound. We’ve been a band for 20 years – wow, even saying that doesn’t feel real – and we’ve evolved through many types of music. And the package was just so strong on this album that we needed strong riffs, double bass drums, that feeling of building heaviness. It just felt right.”
Despite the darkness that they’ve had to fight through, it seems that there is light at the end of the tunnel for Lacuna Coil. By making a record filled with psychological intensity, they’ve been able to face the human condition head-on, and Cristina hopes it’ll help other people confront it, too.
“This isn’t a depressing album,” she says,with a steely look in her eyes. “Not at all. It’s about things that are hard. Life is hard; it’s emotional and dark. But we needed to make this record. It’s helpful tome, to us, to express ourselves. That’s what every artist should do. And if it makes someone who has felt these things, someone who has experienced any of these various emotions or relates to the stories we tell, feel strength, then that’s why it was worth it. That’s why we had to make this record.”
DELIRIUM IS OUT NOW VIA CENTURY MEDIA