With a productivity rate that rivals Terrence Malick, it’s been five years since we last heard from Evanescence with the patchy, but relatively bold, The Open Door. They’ve had their reasons though, ranging from band members leaving then re-joining, a change of producers (Steve Lillywhite to Nick Raskulinecz) and a studio break last year to, in the words of Amy Lee, “get our heads into the right creative space”. Tumultuous doesn’t quite cover it. They’re back now though with their eponymously titled third studio album and, depending on your predilection, it’s business as usual. Accomplished, but not entirely expansive, Evanescence is a welcome return that is marked by moments of brilliance, even if it’s unlikely to attract new fans.
Not that it needs to though: debut Fallen was absolutely mammoth, propelled by the success of ‘Bring Me To Life’ and, despite it being eight years since that album, Evanescence have maintained that fanbase (as evidenced by the immediate sell-out of their upcoming Hammersmith Apollo gig) meaning this album is among the most anticipated this year. Album opener, and lead single, ‘What You Want’ makes it feel as though the band have never been away as chunky riffs mix with Lee’s imperious vocals, crafting a track that is custom-built for the arenas and it’s a pattern returned to throughout the album: ‘Never Go Back’ pulls it off the best with a beast of a chorus, but ‘The Other Side’ and ‘End Of The Dream’ are worthy competitors as well.
None of them hold a candle to the utterly magnificent ‘My Heart Is Broken’ though, unsurprisingly their next planned single. Hands down the best thing the band has ever produced, it’s a powerful brute of a heartfelt ballad that shows off the full range of Lee’s not inconsiderable lung capacity matched by the strong lyrics – “My heart is broken / Sweet sleep, my dark angel / Deliver us from sorrow’s hold / Or from my hard heart”. As ‘My Immortal’ and ‘Lithium’ showed, ballads are where Evanescence shine, moreso than with their more conventional rock efforts which often suffer from a preconception of their goth rock label, and were it not for ‘My Heart Is Broken’, ‘Lost In Paradise’ would have taken the album’s crown. Melodrama at its finest, soaring strings and pianos are the focus as Lee’s vocals take on a brittle, anguished edge – “You believed in me, but I’m broken / I have nothing left / And all I feel is this cruel wanting”.
At times though, the album does slip into filler territory though. With someone like Lee as lead vocalist, it’s nigh-on impossible for tracks to be dull – we’d listen to her recite the phone book, over some crunchy riffs though obviously – but efforts like ‘The Change’ and ‘Erase This’ really wouldn’t be much cop in the presence of another singer. Their problem is that they don't really do anything fresh, although the latter does have a nifty piano intro, and are just a touch too safe to be memorable once they stop playing. While that might seem contradictory given our earlier statements, the majority of the rest of the “business as usual” all have a lasting selling point aside from Lee’s vocals, be it a killer riff or well-crafted chorus.
It’s almost difficult to fully come to a conclusion ratings-wise when it comes to Evanescence. Were this a debut, we’d be looking at a 7 but it’s easy to forget that this comes from a band three albums into their career, however chequered that career may have been, and you’d probably expect a bit more development in the blueprint. With just Amy Lee as an original member left – although guitarist Terry Balsamo is a long servant as well having been there since Ben Moody left during the touring of Fallen – it should arguably be seen as more of a rebirth and as rebirths go, it’s a solid basis on which to progress further after understandably going for what they know as opposed to any left-field choices for their comeback. However you view it though, there’s no denying it’s great to have them back.