There are some teething problems with the overall structure of the album and its production, but Evanescence still sound as good as they always have done.
If you are unfamiliar with that Gothic rock band from Arkansas fronted by Amy Lee, yet you consider yourself to be a well-versed fan of contemporary rock music, Evanescence are undoubtedly worth your time. The band occupy a niche in that their sound is quite an aggressive one that aligns them with heavy metal bands like Tool and Slipknot, yet thanks to the skill of Amy Lee as both a singer-songwriter and classically trained pianist, they possess a unique melodic flair that is undeniably their own. Their music speaks to all kinds of rock fans, while taking in other influences as varied as Mozart, Danny Elfman and Bristol trip-hop.
Evanescence take their time making sure their albums are as good as possible – it’s been ten years since their last full-length album, and now we are presented with their fourth effort, The Bitter Truth.
To be honest, this nearly passed me by, as I wouldn’t have listened to it if it weren’t for the fact it came up for review. I’m glad I did though, as I can happily report, after a couple of listens in various contexts, that the band are sounding just as good as they always have done. This album contains some fantastic songs, some of which hit you on first listen, while others will slowly grow in the mind.
‘Artifact/The Turn’ is a great start to the album, showcasing how the band’s sound has changed subtly while remaining recognisable. There’s an ambience and atmosphere that I can really appreciate, with Amy Lee’s voice, still sounding magnificent as ever, being allowed top billing while melting electronics slowly churn and boil in the background. Part of me wishes the rest of the album was this subtle, as we’re soon back to roaring, energetic guitars for most of the runtime, which gets a bit repetitive, but on the whole it all works very well, with many songs possessing a fantastic energy that will appeal to most open-minded listeners.
Upon first listen, I had some trepidations about the mixing, which isn’t as good as previous Evanescence albums. Amy Lee’s voice sounded obscured and buried rather than front and centre as is normal and proper, while the overall mix felt muddy and lacked space and depth. That said, the mix started to grow on me on the second listen, with the problems seeming less significant, so it’s something that one could get used to.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t affect my individual enjoyment of the songs – if it’s well-written, it’s well-written, and that’s indeed true of most of the cuts here. I could do without the soft melodrama of ‘Wasted On You’, but that’s personal taste. There’s a lot here to keep both existing fans and more general music lovers happy. ‘Yeah Right’ will satisfy those who prefer boppier rhythms, and transitions seamlessly from a generic electronic sound to a more typical Evanescence texture. There’s subdued ambience courtesy of ‘Far From Heaven’, while ‘Feeding The Dark’ and the backing vocals of ‘Use My Voice’ are melodically strong, but my favourite track was probably ‘Better Without You’, with its strong writing, and instrumental fusion of music boxes and short, sharp guitar stabs.
I do think a significant problem with this album overall is its sequencing and pacing. This, again, doesn’t affect the individual songs, but I think it tails off near the end, with ‘Blind Belief’ not really working as a final track. One senses a lack of cohesion – some songs talk of a loss in confidence, while others are about regaining lost confidence. This is fine, but the problem is that the songs are sequenced with seemingly little reason; for instance I found it jarring that at least three consecutive songs about regaining control and seeking vengeance – ‘Better Without You’, ‘Use My Voice’, ‘Take Cover’ – were all undermined by the track that followed them, ‘Far From Heaven’, with its contrasting talk of not knowing what to do.
Picture, if you will, an alternative way of structuring the album. Perhaps more could’ve been made of the overall concept of resurfacing if more depressed tracks like ‘Far From Heaven’ had all been positioned together in the first third, and the album’s protagonist became more determined to fight back as time went on, so that the final songs were the most determined. Like a hurricane in slow motion, the album’s sound gets more and more aggressive, increasingly sounding like the Evanescence of old as the main character regains both her motivation and confidence in herself (her old self being represented by the recognisable rock guitars). ‘The Game Is Over’ or ‘Take Cover’ would in my view have made for a much more effective ending, although it has to be said here at least the usually stagnant middle third feels like one of the most vital parts of the album.
But enough moaning about the album’s lack of linearity, as that’s a nit-pick. What we do have here is a strong collection of rock songs that, while maybe not being the most slickly-mixed, are well-performed by all involved, and the melodies themselves are timeless and shine through despite minor production faults. It has to be said, this album was mixed during a pandemic, and it’s not easy to mix heavy metal songs without them sounding overpowering or mushy, so I can sympathetically put those issues to one side.
Who do I think is likely to enjoy this album? I think there are many music lovers who might get something out of it, as Evanescence deftly merge the sensitivity of soft rock with the energy of hard rock once more, while their actual songwriting might speak to those who just like a good intelligent pop song, and their concepts and themes will also have universal appeal (though there is a vagueness that contradicts Amy Lee’s self-confessed intention to use her voice and speak out more about the state of the world).
Personally, while I don’t think it’s perfect, after just two listens, there’s a lot of stuff here that I like, and I commend Amy Lee in particular for her songwriting skills and the fact she still sounds as good as ever. Whether or not this album will be as iconic as 2003’s Fallen remains to be seen, but that’s besides the point. At worst, this is a collection of solid rock songs. And one can’t argue with that.
The Bitter Truth is available to listen to now via COLUMBIA. Check out ‘Better Without You’ now down below.