Review Summary: After a 5-year hiatus, Evanescence churn out their most musically interesting and technically impressive album yet.
Metal-elitists have trouble taking Evanescence seriously, and understandably so. Many songs off of their debut album, "Fallen," were conceived in Amy Lee's teens and are likely the product of overly-dramaticized high school girly-girl angst. Much of that album certainly isn't the most convincing expression of pain, and skeptics are likely to have thought to themselves at some point, "are you really that miserable?" While a mild taste of heaviness is present on Fallen, the riffage is far from brutal, and the songs were structured in a conventional format with poppy chord progressions and catchy choruses that integrated metal with mainstream rock. Stack that against a band with a lineup straight out of hell with guitars tuned below the brown noise and a larynx-mutilating frontman, and you know who true metalheads are going to prefer, but Evanescence doesn't write songs for them. No, Amy Lee is not a tortured soul, but that doesn't mean her music is uninspired. She's not the most gifted lyricist out there, but the subject matter has matured on each album along with her, and whether you're a purist or a freshly pubescent fangirl, you can't argue with the fact that this chick has one ridiculous set of pipes. After the five year hiatus betweeen "The Open Door" and the 2011 eponymous LP, it turns out she wasn't afraid to use them.
"Evanescence" kicks off pretty strong with "What You Want," a definite departure from earlier material, and easily the most cheerful and optimistic song in the band's short catalogue. It has everything you'd expect in a lead single, from a dance-friendly beat to stuck-in-your-head-for-a-week sing-along sections. Lyrically, it's similar to "Lithium" from "The Open Door," dealing with embracing happiness and positivity in the midst of bad times, instead of the darker themes you might expect from Evanescence. "What You Want" leads into the beefy "Made of Stone," my favorite track off of the album. It opens with a tasty downtuned riff courtesy of lead guitarist Terry Balsamo, later accompanied by a few well-placed reverbed piano notes, immediately creating the big-sounding atmosphere common on their previous albums. Heavy hitting triplets decorate the verses, and Lee's voice proves to be as powerful as ever in the chorus; the song's cohesive arrangment leads effortlessly into a bridge with chilling vocals, and a short guitar solo to usher in the final chorus.
Mid-way through, it becomes apparent that this album is less of an Amy Lee Show than the Evanescence of the past. The rest of the bands efforts are more impressive and interesting than before, after only a slight tweak of The Open Door's lineup. The riffs pack more of a punch, the drums use more difficult and complex rhythms, and there's an unpredictable element that wasn't there before. Awesome moments are scattered all over the album, like the head-bangable riff (dread-whipable in Balsamo's case) midway through "The Other Side," introduced each time by a key all the way on the left side of Amy Lee's piano, the distorted "Sick-of-it-all's" near the end of "Sick," and the eerie string conclusion of "Oceans." While the music has evolved over the five years of inactivity, it still retains the qualities that make up the band's sound, and is very much an Evanescence album.
If anything, I wish they would have experimented even more. I expected something a little bit more different from "Fallen" and "The Open Door," and would have loved to hear more of the heavily electronic sound used on the soothing album closer, "Swimming Home," which conveys the sense that you're floating peacefully underwater. Amy Lee cited La Roux and Bjork as big influences, so I was really hoping for something way out in left field compared to before, but the only songs that would be completely out of place on the previous albums are "What You Want" and "Swimming Home." Furthermore, despite the album being very consistent, there isn't really a massive song that completely stood out and blew me away.
Overall, "Evanescence" surpassed "Fallen" and "The Open Door," as well as my expectations. Lee's voice is even stronger than it was in the past, which is really saying something considering how impressive she's been throughout her career. The album is Evanescence's most musically interesting effort so far, and while it's still painted with moments of darkness at times, it's clear how the music has matured from the "Fallen" days. But don't get me wrong, you're still gonna hate it if you're an elitist.
Made of Stone
The Other Side
Lost in Paradise
What You Want