By: Editor J Engels
Sounding like a far-off, Interstellar transmission, “Artifact/ The Turn” is an immersive soundscape that, with a siren-like lull , sucks me into The Bitter Truth.
Although it’s been about a decade since Evanescence released new music, when I listened to this song I was tricked into thinking that no time at all had passed since I first discovered the band as a moody pre-teen and their music came to be synonymous with “escapism”. I went into this album totally ready to let it work its hypnotic magic on me, ready to let it sweep me away to somewhere else the way that Evanescence’s previous albums- Fallen, The Open Door, and even the self titled album- have always managed to do without fail.
But, as the Bitter Truth progresses, something happens; the spell that the first songs had over me is suddenly broken. “The Game is Over” – which is only the second song on this album- is the point where things start to fall apart. The generic execution and poor production of the song (mangling of vocals, odd muting) is so noticeable that I’m taken out of the experience of listening to it- and that’s never happened to me before with any Evanescence song. I can rationalize to myself that in theory what I’m listening to is Evanescence; all the elements are here. There’s guitars and drums droning monotonously in the background of Amy Lee’s soaring and sassy voice. And the lyrics of the song- such as “I’m alright, but I’m not gonna lie” and “Change me so I don’t have to pretend”- are sufficiently on brand for Evanescence. And yet, in the context of this particular song (and the ones following it) these elements never quite achieve harmony with each other.
I try to brush off “The Game is Over” as just one unsuccessful song, but as the album goes on I find it harder and harder to reconcile what I’m hearing with the band I fell in love with all those years ago. By song number 5, “Feeding the Dark”, it seems like the album might be starting to take a turn for the better; the chorus of this one is genuinely gripping, and the song’s subject, inner darkness, is something Amy Lee has been exceptionally talented at tackling in the past. But even this song fails to be particularly memorable upon a re-listen, standing out only because it felt like a reprieve from the mind-numbing blandness of the rest of the album.
After listening through the album as a whole, I can’t help but feel that while Evanescence technically followed through on their promise to deliver new rock music, something’s missing from their latest effort. It feels as if, despite all that time away, they still weren’t quite ready. The rare few traces of the Evanescence edginess I’ve come to know and love that are present in this album are just that- traces, and ones that feel feigned at that. Even the most heartfelt of the songs, “Far from Heaven”- which singer Amy Lee wrote as a tribute to her brother who passed very recently- still ends up somehow sounding emptier than any other song that can be found in Evanescence’s discography.
In the Bitter Truth, Evanescence sound like shadows of their former selves. And there’s a lot of factors that could be to blame for this; the album was recorded during COVID, with guitarist Jen Majura unable to be physically present to record her parts (resulting in the album sometimes sounding like a patchwork of different pieces). There’s also all the lineup changes that the band has gone through, and the fact that Amy Lee is the only original member of the band accounts perhaps for the lack of chemistry among the musicians. The album’s producer, Nick Rasculinez, also has a history of doing a great disservice by the artists he works with by making poor production decisions (don’t even get me started on his restrictive overproduction of Halestorm’s last two albums.)
What’s really holding this album back more than any of those other factors, though, is an over-abundance of caution. Evanescence seems to be so committed to what worked in the past that they’re reluctant to take any risks- something I find ironic considering how groundbreaking their debut album was. Once, Evanescence was a band that refused to play by the rules, a band that had to fight their way to fame simply because they were fronted by a woman. Once, Evanescence represented defying expectations- but now they’ve been out of the game for so long it’s as if they’re pressured to play it safe. They’ve yet to figure out where exactly they fit within the current music landscape, but- although this album wasn’t exactly the triumphant comeback I’d hoped for from them I firmly believe there is still a place for their pseudo-goth, melodic rock music that once captured the hearts of so many tweens. They just need to carve that place out for themselves.
Total Score: 5/10
Best Songs: Artifact/ The Turn, Broken Pieces Shine, Feeding the Dark, Use My Voice, Far from Heaven
Listen to the album here: