I want to preface this by saying a few things: The only reason I ever checked out Fallen and Evanescence is because I was mesmerized by Amy Lee’s voice. She is perhaps the finest young singer out there today, and probably my favorite. Her tone, control, and inflections are just riveting and endlessly dramatic. However, as much as I loved Lee’s voice, Fallen – on the whole – was a VERY mediocre album. That statement alone will send 5000 Evanescence fans crying foul with “this review wasn’t helpful” votes, but hear me out:
As good as Lee’s voice is, the majority of the music on Fallen was mostly just plain bad. Too much of it sounded like a bland Linkin Park ripoff (as if they weren’t bland enough). The sole exception being a really good drummer – the guitars and bass on Fallen were just terrible. I say this coming from a music lover’s background. Someone who feels actual music makes music good as opposed to catchiness or a good voice or lyrics. Fallen had great vocal performances in spades, and My Immortal is in my pantheon of all-time great songs. But the rest was just sub-par from a song-writing and musical standpoint.
With all of that out of the way, I get to The Open Door. Boy, did Lee and co. surprise me with this album. I will simply say that everything is vastly improved. It’s denser and much more complex than Fallen, without losing an ounce of what made Fallen a success. That being outstanding vocal performances, and the right combination of catchy hooks and darkness. I honestly didn’t expect an album like this from Evanescence so soon – an album that will seperate the Evanescence fanboys and fangirls from those who genuinely enjoy music as art.
Amy’s voice has actually grown in leaps and bounds since Fallen. She has learned how and when to mix her haunting, wispy vocals with her towering, belting vocals. Besides that, we have a whole new lot of inflections from Amy, including a dark and almost menacing low register. All of this is combined with perfect control and a highly dramatic delivery that brings to mind opera without being over the top. Speaking of leaps and bounds, the guitars on this album are exactly that. Gone is the puking tone from Fallen’s Ben Moody, and here is a tight, “dialed in just right” metal tone from the much more competant Terry Balsamo. Besides the tone, the interplay between the guitarists is actually pretty good. Nothing on the level of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, but still darn good for a mainstream band. On the whole, the guitars go from what was an annoyance on Fallen to genuinely enjoyable on The Open Door. The drums and bass also provide a solid backbone and a driving momentum for most of the songs. While perhaps a bit forgettable compared to the rest of the album, they’re by no means bad.
In terms of song-writing we hear an artist learning to write multi-faceted and well structured songs that actually go somewhere. Sweet Sacrifice and Call Me When You’re Sober rock as hard as anything on Fallen, but both are exceedingly better structured with some – surprisingly – good, interlocking guitar work. The dark, haunting numbers are equally as accomplished. Lithium builds perfectly into a momentous finale with Lee’s voice looming large over the hulking guitars. Like You is as bleak as anything they’ve done. With disturbing lyrics that match the somberness of the music.
Elsewhere, the multitude of experimentation works much more often than it doesn’t. Snow White Queen starts out as a brooding piece before bursting into one of the best choruses on the album. Lacrymosa might be THE highlight of the album. Sampling a piece from Mozart’s Requiem we hear a near brilliant fusion of dire classical and gravely gothic metal. This piece builds from just the strings of Mozart’s piece into a colossal finale with grinding, churning guitars and Amy’s soaring voice mixing with the Lacrimosa chorus creating a truly dramatic ending. Your Star begins with a eerie piano bit, before Lee enters with a ghostly like vocal. The song again builds into an excellent finale with an intricate dual piano/guitar melody.
The last half of the album is just as rewarding as the first. This is another differing point from Fallen – which fell apart near the end. The Only One and All That I’m Living For actually match the power of the lead singles, and are perhaps even more satisfying with repeat listens. The album closes with its answer to My Immortal in Good Enough. This is a simple gem of a song. It’s not as immediately striking and memorable as My Immortal, but it’s equally as stellar. Featuring Amy Lee at her most confessional and restrained, this is a sobering and haunting song. Sounding little like Evanescence’s usual goth-metal-pop mix, this song bears more resemblence to R&B. In truth, this is as soulful a song as I’ve heard in a long time, and as good a vocal performance as I’ve ever heard.
The Open Door is not all premium material though, with a few generic numbers. Weight of the World just can’t match the power of the opening songs. Cloud Nine and Lose Control are also rather drab and one dimensional. This would’ve likely been a stronger album if those songs were cut, trimming the album from 13 to 10 songs. These few minor grievances cannot detract from what is still a marvelous album. Compared to Fallen, I was surprised by how much better this album got with repeated listens, which is likely due to it being much more subtle and intricately structured. Another highlight is the outstanding production that allows the details (and Amy’s voice) to shine. This album sounds absolutely magnificant on my high end audio system, and is one of my favorites to listen to because of it.
Now, compared to bands like The Gathering and Lacuna Coil, Evanescence still has a ways to go. But as a mainstream band trying to fuse pop and gothic metal, they succeed admirably. What we end up with is an album that fulfills the potential shown on their debut, while still hinting that perhaps even better things are to come. I will say that this is an album that uber-fans of Fallen might not easily get into and like (as shown by the polarizing reviews on Amazon). But I extremely respect Amy Lee for delivering a truely dark, confessional album with many musical highlights rather than a banal remake of Fallen. If I only enjoyed Fallen because of Lee’s vocals, I truly enjoy every aspect of The Open Door – from the vocals to the music and arrangements to the production. And that’s as high a compliment as I can give this album.