EVANESCENCE: Synthesis (2017)
Evanescence was my introduction into the world of hard rock and gothic metal, somewhat humorously now, thanks to the movie Daredevil. Back in 2003, the sound the band put forth was completely unheard of, especially on the radio, and skyrocketed their debut album, Fallen, into the limelight, topping the charts in ten countries and certified platinum seven times. Fallen represented a fusion of former band member Ben Moody and front-woman Amy Lee’s production styles. Lee’s emphasis on piano and vocals worked well with Moody’s more radio friendly tendencies, as he brought in 12 Stones’ Paul McCoy for vocals on “Bring Me to Life”, some of the orchestral moments in “Whisper” and “My Last Breath”, and translating a heavy metal song into “Tourniquet”. After their split, Moody went on to write and produce for a variety of artists, worked on solo projects, and formed the band We Are the Fallen, who’s only album, the incredible Tear the World Down, remains one of my favorites of all time. Lee retained the name Evanescence and came out with the mediocre The Open Door in 2006, and the superior self-titled album in 2011. Unfortunately, for being one of the most popular and well-known names in progressive metal, Evanescence has a frustratingly short discography.
Six years since their third album, Lee has returned the band to the spotlight with Synthesis, hailed as a reimagining of their discography for small orchestra and supporting a new tour. I had high expectations for this project. The band’s style has shifted between Fallen and Evanescence with a complete band lineup change and shift for the latter album to Lee’s writing style. Where The Open Door seemed unsure of the band’s sound, the third album truly shined, and I thought a reworking of some of the Fallen songs that Moody had had a heavier hand in would be really interesting, in addition to providing an opportunity for Lee to reimagine some of her other works. None of that really happened. The biggest change comes in the removal of McCoy’s vocals in Bring Me To Life, but missing are Fallen songs like “Going Under”, “My Last Breath”, and “Whisper” that could have benefitted from the new orchestration style here in Synthesis. Instead, Lee opted to include “Imaginary” and “My Immortal” as the only other songs from Fallen, which were already solidly in her court.
I’m quite curious what went into the decisions behind which songs were included in this project. Two of the stand out songs on Synthesis are “Never Go Back” and “End of the Dream” off the 2011 album, the latter opening with only Lee’s vocals over a droning synth note that works well in contrast to the original version. Other songs, “My Heart Is Broken” and “Lacrymosa” sound fairly similar to the originals. My biggest criticism with song selection, however, is also related to the structuring of the album. The second half consists of “Secret Door”, “Lithium”, “Lost In Paradise”, “Your Star”, and “My Immortal”. In other words, Lee lumped all of her slower-style songs in a row. These had been sprinkled through three albums as a change of pace from some of the harder songs, but here slow Synthesis to a crawl. All are excellent songs, but not only are they positioned poorly on the album, they didn’t really need to be reorchestrated. Especially with “My Immortal”, which has already been reworked numerous times, and the Synthesis version only copies the orchestrations by composer Graeme Revell from the Daredevil soundtrack, which is a step backward from the “Band” version Lee put out a few years back.
There is some new material on Synthesis in the form of two new songs and some piano-heavy interludes. The first new song, “Hi-Lo”, fits well in the style of the album and features violinist Lindsay Sterling. “Imperfection” closes the album and is less in the album style, but is a really good song, so it’s inclusion here is welcome. The instrumental tracks are, like much of the album, a good concept but frustrating. The album opens with “Overture”, which by its title had the opportunity to present an instrumental fusion of a variety of melodies from Lee’s songs, but instead is less than a minute of slow piano and strings that build up into “Never Go Back”. Similarly, “The In-Between” which closes the album ahead of “Imperfection” is short and features nothing melodically related to anything of the songs. The interlude, “Unraveling”, does feature the chord progression from “Bring Me To Life” but like the rest of Synthesis, feels like a missed opportunity to truly reimagine the band’s repertoire. While this album is an enjoyable experiment and probably a great live performance, I’d like to see Evanescence return to getting a new album out soon.