Sound: For fans of Italy's gothic metal band Lacuna Coil, the band's 5th studio album Shallow Life will offer much of what attracted listeners in the first place. At the forefront is undoubtedly vocalist Cristina Scabbia, who is able to take songs that might be mediocre otherwise and propel them to a different level. Shallow Life marks Lacuna's Coil first concept album, with the main theme being superficiality that exists in everyday life. Lyrically speaking you wouldn't necessarily guess that the release is a concept album when you break it down song by song, but in the end it's the quality of the music that will send the biggest message. In this case, there is no shortage of catchy, melodic tunes that will instantly get stuck in your head.
Shallow Life isn't necessarily a mind-blowing new musical experience, but having Scabbia in the group is obviously a huge resource. Between her use of Arabic-style vocalizations (I'm Not Afraid) and her impressive range, she is able to get emotion across in every track. That's not to say that co-vocalist Andrea Ferro is not solid in his own right, but it's hard to keep up with Scabbia in the vocal arena. There is powerful quality to the band as well, but it comes across as a wall of sound rather than pushing individual players in the spotlight. If any of the instruments make a strong impression, it's usually the synth/keys because of the several prominent piano-driven sections.
There are quite a few rock tracks that tend to be more power-chord based, and it is usually the unusual harmonization from Scabbia that takes the song in a new direction. The opening track I Survive is arguably the best fast-paced tune on Shallow Life with several musical sections featured within it. From the haunting child-like voice at the beginning to the thrash-like rhythm to the intro, it all works. The album is surprisingly lacking in memorable lead work, but Unchained and Spellbound do include soulful solos.
Shallow Life has it's share of laid-back moments, with Wide Awake and Shallow Life being two of the standout tracks in this area. They are quite different approaches, with the acoustic guitar and the piano acting as the main backing instrument, respectively. Nothing on the album truly screams metal, and Lacuna Coil should probably be deemed more of a gothic rock band than a metal one. Even so, dedicated fans won't care about what genre the band fit's into when all is said and done. // 8
Lyrics: As was mentioned earlier, Shallow Life delves into superficiality among everyone not just the celebrity world, as was made clear in the band's interview with Revolver. But although this release has been deemed a concept album, all of the songs could exist and make thorough sense without the others to back them up. There is definitely an introspective feel to all of them, as is presented in The Maze. That particular track features lines such as I barely carry on each day; Life is so destructive and later In this maze, I'm running through the halls of emptiness. The Maze is a fair representation of all of the tracks on Shallow Life, in that it definitely hit's upon some universal/human topics, but it's also not always presented in the most unexpected manner. Thankfully Scabbia has the talent and emotional depth to morph the lackluster lines into something grander. // 8
Overall Impression: It does seem that the instrumentation on past albums stuck out a bit more than what is heard on Shallow Life, and that would be a problem if there weren't so many interesting vocal elements that are layered in throughout the record. There are certainly a good number of songs that will find commercial success because Lacuna Coil has the ability to write an incredibly catchy hook when it comes time for the chorus. While Shallow Life isn't their most impressive work, it still has enough positive aspects to keep dedicated fans happy. // 8