Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Synthesis | Evanescence

A hiatus can be so unkind to a musical act. A personnel change can be, too. Rock bank Evanescence has had a lot of each.

Just six months after having won the battle for a green light on Fallen, their major label debut album, the band said goodbye to songwriter and founding member Ben Moody. Three years after Fallen's release, a second member had left, another had suffered a stroke, and the band was still without a sophomore record – which would arrive in the fall of 2006 in the form of The Open Door, a stylistically adventurous (and impressive) endeavor with a smaller commercial return on investment. It was another half-decade later before Amy Lee, the band's powerhouse figurehead, bandaged her passion project back together for a self-titled record in 2011. Released amid more band member and producer shake-ups and at the height of the career-long tension with Wind-up Records, the album was a splash compared to the tidal wave that was Fallen.

In the band's lengthy lag times, Evanescence fell into near-meme state. Breakthrough hit "Bring Me to Life" has been dragged through the mud for its rock-rap aesthetic and wonderfully 2000s music video – and the mockery peaked with a popular cover by a guy who can contort his voice to sound like Goofy. "Going Under" was the soundtrack to the iconic goth parody that stars Raven, the acid bath princess of the darkness, and her friends, Tara and Azer. And "My Immortal" shares a name with an equally iconic, infamously terrible, 44-chapter Harry Potter fanfiction about a girl named Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way – no relation to Gerard Way, but she does conveniently look like Amy Lee. Their reputation in meme culture began to outpace their legacy as a Grammy-winning band that reintroduced the female voice to rock music.

For an act that had been silent for six years and hadn't produced a true hit in over a decade, Evanescence returned in 2017 in the best way they could have: They planted themselves as a nostalgia act, releasing an unorthodox greatest hits collection of sorts. Synthesis – kind of their fourth studio album, kind of their first compilation album – is a hodge-podge of new tracks and reworked songs from their back catalog, all molded into an electro-orchestral experience. (So basically what we all should ask of Ashlee Simpson's return to music, should that ever happen. Or a Lindsay Lohan comeback album, featuring 12 different orchestral versions of "Rumors." Man, a lot could be done with the bridge on that one... But I digress.)

However, selections were plucked from the first three records based on how compatible they were with a Synthesis retrofit, not on their commercial success. Though fans will find plenty of goodies on the album, casual listeners who checked out after 2004 will be unhappy to recognize only "Bring Me to Life" and "My Immortal." One goes without its "wake me up" hype-man and feels a bit empty without him, even if he wasn't meant to be there in the first place; the other isn't all that different, given its basis was already a somber piano ballad. Other ballads, including power ballads "My Heart is Broken" and "Lost in Paradise" from Evanescence, are also stripped of their guitars and pianos for cascading strings to equally unchanged, albeit admirable, results.

Tracks from the band's eponymous album, their least striking and least recognized record, dominate this one: Five songs from it alone find second lives here, some of them outshining their hard rock origins. "End of the Dream" may have the most drastic overhaul on the record, freeing the melody that the original rendition buried beneath heavy, relentless guitars. The three tracks to appear from The Open Door do not outperform, but are free to unhinge just like, their rock counterparts –especially the Mozart-sampling "Lacrymosa," which tilts and creaks with jarring strings, and "Your Star," the last minute of which spirals into a madhouse.

Of the two new tracks, "Hi-Lo" is the brighter behemoth – although it does stand next to "My Heart is Broken" in the album's track listing and bleed some similarity in composition and tone. Regardless, Lee's vocal performance shatters through the track before Lindsey Stirling appears for a killer string feature in the bridge. "Imperfection," meanwhile, is perhaps the most reliant on the sputtering electronics that are otherwise subtle on the record. It's a bit more urgent than how Evanescence normally carries themselves, and it's certainly less hardcore than they're used to touting.

Synthesis is anything but lazy. Each detail of the orchestral arrangements seem to have been fussed over, and vocals for all of the reimagined songs have been rerecorded to emphasize Lee's refined vocal technique: a bit more dynamic and supported, but nothing strikingly different or any less dramatic than before. It's the type of project many fans dream to get from their favorite artists – and much like "part two" continuation albums, it's one that artists often promise but rarely deliver. Even if it doesn't offer transformations that are all that different, the record is an interesting capitalization on Lee's classical influences and desired sonic direction nonetheless.

Synthesis is available now through BMG Rights Management.

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