Album Review: Evanescence – The Bitter Truth

[BMG; 2021]

Nothing really went as predicted for Evanescence. When their 2003 debut album Fallen arrived, buoyed by the world beating single “Bring Me To Life”, it fell into the eager hands of nearly every young teen at the time (this writer certainly included). When the band defeated none other than Curtis Jackson – I mean, the man was coming off Get Rich or Die Tryin’, for christ’s sake – for the Grammys’ Best New Artist, it seemed fair to assume that things would simply turn out bigger for the band. 

Granted, 50 Cent hasn’t exactly enjoyed the greatest longevity, either, but he’s stuck around in his own way. Amy Lee and co., on the other hand, saw their sales plummet with each release: second album The Open Door’s double platinum run was nothing to be ashamed of, but a far cry from the eight million records its predecessor had sold. Their third, self-titled album landed in 2011 with what was essentially a thud. They took a long break after.

None of this is to bely the simplest of facts: Amy Lee has an incredible, even breathtaking, voice. She didn’t necessarily do Evanescence’s image any favors by considering her bandmates dispensable, practically making Uriah Heep’s lineup look consistent, but she wasn’t entirely wrong. People came to Evanescence for her. It’s laughable to recall the band’s label having tried to force a full-time male vocalist on them, fearing she wouldn’t be able to stand alone – a thought as absurd as it was sexist.

To the point, then. This week, Evanescence arrives with their second album since 2011, and their first since 2017’s Synthesis. There seems to be a renewed sense of cautious curiosity among the once-faithful, even for those that skipped out on their last return. The question lingers in the air: will they ever strike gold again? Can they still provide involuntary goosebumps the way the likes of “Tourniquet” and “My Last Breath” once did, reach the sort of beauty of “My Immortal”?

Well, can they? Let’s dig in to The Bitter Truth. Suffice to say, if they can’t, they were sure asking for it with that title.

Opener “Artifact / The Turn” shows that, at the very least, the band still has the power to surprise. It’s a slowburn electronic opener, a far cry from the expected thunderous entrance. Lee wonders aloud, “Where do we go from here?” and it’s hard not to imagine that she’s speaking to herself and her band. Then, naturally, things kick into gear. “Broken Pieces Shine” is all riffs and operatic vocals, alternating between a thunderous chorus with streamlined playing, and more muted verses, offset by jagged, even sludgy guitar. The lyrics themselves aren’t as striking as they once were, but when Lee gets to wailing, it hardly matters.

“The Game is Over” initially seems to leap into less standardized territory, with church bells blending with the drumming and the chirping instrumental seeming to mimic insects at night. Then, naturally, the riff comes in. In fact, when it comes to The Bitter Truth in general, it can’t help but be felt that the band would have benefited from journeying outside their comfort zones more often. Lee has long cited the likes of Portishead and Björk as influences, and the thought of her venturing more into this sort of territory, while retaining their undeniable Evanescence, is tantalizing indeed.

After all, Lee still is a true showstopper when it comes to her slower ballads, as displayed on late album highlight “Far From Heaven”. So, you might find yourself wishing the guitarist would simply take a break more often, as the constant insistence of the Guitar Hero nature of their sound can wear a bit thin for all but the greatest diehard. “Yeah Right” starts bouncily electronic, even – gasp – danceable, but then? Yep. Gotta get in those shouted vocals over a sordid riff. These are words sure to trigger all but the most sensible ‘Rock fan’, but, put simply, a sense of obligation does not the best Roll make.

It’s still, in its way, great to have Evanescence back. For some of us, The Bitter Truth will immediately speak to a certain nostalgia, offer a certain space of barbed comfort. Yet, it’s a world as easily left behind as it is explored, with hardly a song that will do more but briefly remind you, ‘Oh, right, yep, this is what Evanescence sounds like’. Again, there’s some pleasure to be had here, but for all of those except those of us pawing the floor with anxious, somewhat embarrassed memories – and as the album cover even seems readily to acknowledge – this is perhaps a pill best left unswallowed.