Back in 2003, when I was just a wee sixth-grader who spent most of my time on StarCraft I and Diablo II and thought that Linkin Park was da heaviest shit around, I was one of those clueless idiots who hadn’t heard of Evanescence until that very well-known chorus of “Bring Me to Life” got etched into my brain from being overplayed on radio, TV (during advertisements for MTV which featured Evanescence’s video for that hit single and which contained Daredevil footage), at fast food joints, record shops, department stores, clothes shops, school events…and basically everywhere else. It was the biggest single around that everyone was talking about, regardless of whether you were into pop, blues, rock, techno, or rap.
Y’know, I really hate to say this. I really do, but that is exactly what Evanescence is, even though it has already been eight years and one studio album since that fiscal year: Evanescence is still a band that has not succeeded in tearing that “one-hit wonder” label off itself. 2006’s The Open Door was no better and, in fact, worse than Fallen. All it achieved was that it left me wondering how such a much gother-looking piece of artwork than the one adorning Fallen — OMFG-A-GHOST-AHH! — was wasted on such an unmemorable record. Sure, they might be musicians who are content with the commercial direction they have been moving towards since they started 14 years ago, but surely there ought to be a limit to how uncreative they can get?
As with the few other reviewers who gave 2003’s Fallen a mixed/negative review, I am of the opinion that Amy Lee is not part of Evanescence. Amy Lee is Evanescence. Her angelic voice is the only saving grace of the band, but, and this is gonna sound harsh, the rest of the band certainly sounds easily replaceable. The guitars still bang out those boring standard chord progressions, and the drummer sounds like he is bored to tears with his metronomic drum beats being there just for the sake of providing percussion support so that Evanescence can still be considered “goth rock”. If I ever find a conspicuous-looking golden lamp amidst the clutter of dusty mugs in my kitchen’s utensil cupboard, I will rub it and pray like hell that a long-maned genie wearing a Dimmu Borgir shirt pops out to grant me my wish of having Amy Lee replace Shagrath in his own band. Imagine if she was the lead singer on Abrahadabra! My innards quiver in lecherous excitement at that very thought.
Whenever I see a band release a self-titled record that is not its first album, I am wary. This is because it usually forewarns of a “writing block period” of some sort in the band’s career thus far. I am not trying to be pompous or snobbish here by suggesting that Evanescence completely deserve no merit for its music-writing skills, it is just that for a huge band like this, more is naturally expected. Bands who do this self-titled thingamajig for their first records can be forgiven for such an uncreative start to their careers, for after all, they are still probably trying to fit comfortably into this whole music business and can be justified to be “still trying to find their identity” or “making a record that is being true to themselves”. For a best-selling and pretty old band like Evanescence to do this for its third full-length effort though did raise my eyebrows before I gave this new record a listen. After listening to it a few times trying to filter out the better tracks, my eyebrows disappeared into whatever little hair I have on my head (mind you, I am currently conscripted) and confirmed my suspicion that they probably just cobbled together random musical ideas that describe “harsh life experiences”, “where they are in life now”, or “some tragedy in their life”, yada yada. And then they simply decided that these uninteresting ideas would make up the content of the new record.
What I like and can praise about this album, though, is the noticeable increase in the prominence of choir singing, tinkling piano motifs, and the silky sound of string instruments. While Fallen stuck more closely to the nu-metal sound (notice how I completely ignore The Open Door), this record sees Evanescence taking more of the symphonic metal road, which is welcomed by a metal-loving classical pianist such as myself. Nu-metal elements are still heard on tracks like the Korn-esque start to the first track “What You Want” and the aggressive riffage that kicks off the penultimate track, “Never Go Back”, but the un-rock instruments that were loved and abused by the 50 Great Masters of Classical Music are the ones that really shine here in comparison to the rock instruments, which is ironic seeing how Evanescence consider themselves a rock band. Every track on this record has unimpressive rock instruments juxtaposed against a rather epic sounding backdrop of orchestral and piano accompaniment, and when you know that those guest musicians aren’t actual members of the band, it really makes you wonder how good the songs on this album will sound when they are performed live some time soon in the future. Let’s just picture this scenario: Should the orchestral recordings encounter some error during the sound check and Evanescence have to go on with the gig without them, can the plain ol’ guitars and drums perform up to expectations? Not without a hired orchestra in the background in this case.
The two tracks that really caught my attention are “Erase This” and “Lost in Paradise”, the former having a bright and catchy recurring piano melody throughout, and the latter being a soulful symphonic ballad. The last track, “Swimming Home”, deserves a mention too, for it is an interesting ballad that fuses the surreal and “distant” mechanical sound of the synths with the heart-wrenching vocal hooks of Amy Lee’s ever-so-sweet voice and the dreamy dashes of the harp’s tender sound. One more thing, the deluxe edition of this album actually does make a damned difference, for the four extra tracks, “New Way to Bleed”, “Say You Will”, “Disappear”, and “Secret Door” certainly sound more memorable than most of the earlier 12 tracks. Oh, how greedy you all have gotten Evanescence, saving the better of the lot for last. If you have been a long-time Evanescence fan, it is highly recommended that you fall for the money-grubbing scheme and buy the deluxe edition. Out of these four bonus tracks, “Say You Will” and “Disappear” are the most metal-sounding ones, while “New Way to Bleed” and “Secret Door” are slow and soft ballads that sound like they are the same song given two different names.
So here’s the part where I make a comparison to other bands in the same genre, and the names I am about to bring up are quite predictable actually. Sounding like a symphonic and much more mature version of Flyleaf (minus the harsh vocals) and a peer fellow goth icons Lacuna Coil will be glad to have on some megatour they are sure to have following the imminent release of their upcoming album, Evanescence may not be doing anything fresh or positively controversial on this new record all about itself. But they sure know how to keep their diehard fans happy by largely repeating the same formula that worked for them in the past. It’s a pity they are still going to be remembered as the band that shot to fame with the Daredevil movie, and it’s an even greater pity that the chorus in “Bring Me to Life” is still the catchiest they have come up with to date.