Thursday, April 1, 2021

Review: The Bitter Truth • Evanescence

For a band that has so infrequently occupied the past, Evanescence is often dominated by conversations about it. While the band has released fewer albums in almost two decades than Taylor Swift has in two years, the band seemed to burn their presence into memory each time they returned to the surface of pop culture. Fallen, the band’s major-label debut, grew the legs expected from any career-defining record: It crawled across radio formats, moved millions of units, and earned the band two Grammy Awards. Achieving commercial rock music with a sullen pop slant and a few lines from an anonymous angry rapper, the album was the universal beacon of early aughts teen culture. Fallen and the band’s two subsequent releases, though, have all aged with much more grace than studded belts and fingerless gloves – especially The Open Door, a masterclass performance in rock music with crossover appeal. Likewise, the band grew well beyond an artifact of the era and into one of today’s most accessible hard rock bands.

As the band’s first collection of all-new material since their 2011, The Bitter Truth is likely their first to benefit from the poptimism erosion of genre purity standards, wherein past Top 40 radio-occupying rock acts and rock-adjacent pop acts alike have been vindicated for their fluidity. (The Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance, the catch-all successor category to the Best Hard Rock Performance trophy that Evanescence won in 2003, was given to Fiona Apple this year for a piano-led art pop song. And hey, it also seems as if society is ready to accept that Ashlee Simpson’s Autobiography was actually kind of a good record.) But perhaps there is more to be said about Evanescence framed as a legacy act that has been long set in their ways, without having shown any concessions to modify their mission statement to better fit critics’ narrative: Not to expect a collection of heavy thrashers and overwrought power ballads spiked with a certain level of histrionics from Evanescence would be unrealistic, if not just foolish.

That holds true for The Bitter Truth, an album that works to preserve the band’s legacy despite unprecedented creative liberty after the demise of their soured record label relationship. As the opening track’s electronic static flickers and bleeds into “Broken Pieces Shine,” the album’s crowning jewel emerges. The unrelenting call for perseverance foreshadows a record that processes past wrongdoings and loss through garden variety Evanescence songwriting. While The Bitter Truth was created with the same producer as the last Evanescence record and pulls few surprises, the electrified “Take Cover” benefits from some uncharacteristic wit. “Yeah Right” even infuses some impressively danceable bass fit for a Goldfrapp record. It’s disappointing, however, to hear frontwoman Amy Lee fill dead space with “slap-silly-happy” and “tip-tip-toppy high of the low.” Aside from placing the belly flop lead single “Wasted on You” between two of the record’s highest octane cuts, it’s the sorest oversight on an otherwise tactful record that achieves the Millennial whoop (“Use My Voice”) and blows tangled strands of harmonic belts through nu-metal wind tunnels (“Better Without You,” “Blind Belief”) with equal success. 

Despite 20 years of shifting music trends and more recent pandemic-inflicted barriers to music production, Evanescence still makes, well, Evanescence music. And while something like the Synthesis project proved interesting in its reframing of the band’s music into progressive orchestration, there’s still something so fulfilling to be swept into the high drama hallmarks and rock music thunderstorm. Sure, not much has changed as Evanescence swirls around the same territory, but why should it? Lee delivers suckerpunch performances; the lyrics paint distress in vivid detail, dribbling sensationalism to the nth degree; and the incredibly ornate music is calculated for ultimate payoff at each turn, offering something for a multidisciplinary collective of music fans. In short, if you haven't already bought into their longstanding vision, it's probably best to leave Evanescence alone. Even as a band that could have been frozen in a time capsule of peak goth rock, they seem to be doing just fine.

The Bitter Truth is now available under BMG Rights Management.

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