The Bitter Truth by Evanescence represents the battle between light and dark, and the ways in which 2020 left its mark on the band. It’ not only global, with COVID raging across the world and racial injustice in the U.S., but also personal. Singer Amy Lee was dealt the unexpected passing of her brother, while bassist Tim McCord’s family lost a child. Guitarist Jen Majura has been isolated in Germany, her home, unable to join her bandmates to be involved with the creation of the album in person.
Lyrically, the album is both a response to those challenges and a look at hope on the horizon.
The sound is a cross between old and new. Evanescence is raw and biting, fusing both down-tuned hard rock with the musical complexity of classical music. While the songs aren’t the radio-ready anthems of the band’s breakthrough, Fallen, they harken back to the urgency and immediacy of the band’s earliest work. The Bitter Truth is also proof that Amy Lee is simply one of the best vocal powerhouses in rock, to the point where it’s almost taken for granted.
The album opens with “Artifact/The Turn,” which serves more as an extended intro to “Broken Pieces Shine.” The track’s opening notes have Lee singing a quiet and darkly haunting melody over a sparse, almost dreamlike synth-scape. The song hints at both Japanese and European influences as Lee sings “Where do we go now to see the turn?” before everything fades into the countdown to “Shine.” That morphs into a rolling, militaristic drum pattern with driving muted guitar riffs. It displays some of the band’s’ finest qualities: a punishingly heavy arrangement alongside Lee’s soaring, orchestral vocal. “Let all the broken pieces shine,” Lee declares in recognition of the difficulties of the past year.
More pulsing drumming and the ringing of a gong introduce the opening notes of “The Game Is Over.” The deep bass notes play off the down-tuned guitar riffs as drummer Will Hunt maintains a heavy groove. “When all the hate burns off/ I’m left here with the pain” Lee sings, with backing vocals by Majura. “Yeah Right” mixes an upbeat groove that builds into a fist-pumping anthem.
“Feeding The Dark” gives a nod to some of the band’s earliest work, fusing hard rock guitar playing with a classical, almost operatic vocal that has Lee absolutely belting it out.”I know all your secrets/ And I won’t let you forget,” she sings Lee. Single “Wasted On You,” meanwhile, is a trippy mid-tempo ballad. The intricacy of the verses meld into straightforward riffage on the chorus as Lee asks to, “just pass me the bitter truth.”
“Better Without You” kicks off dramatically with the urgency of programmed loops before building into a Korn-meets-Breaking-Benjamin attack of guitar riffs. “As empires fall to pieces/ Our ashes twisting in the air/ It makes me smile to know that/ I’m better without you,” Lee sings on the track’s chorus, a seeming reference to both the political climate, but possibly also something more personal.
“Use My Voice” most certainly takes on political strife and battle for racial equality. Lee is strong and defiant, declaring she will be heard amid the chaos. Following a heavy breakdown, the band sings the final chorus together. It will certainly bring fans to life when shows resume. Evanescence has truly found an identity and rhythm since taking its current form in 2015.
The hard-driving “Take Cover” is one of the album’s best straightforward rock songs, brimming with confidence. From a haunting vocal to Hunt’s pulsing double-bass drumming and Lee’s vocal explosion, it’s a thrill ride from the first note.
The first true piano ballad doesn’t arrive until “Far From Heaven,” on which Lee sings with a pained timbre. At nearly five minutes, it eventually blossoms into a wall of sound with an orchestra’s worth of strings and some electronic elements.
The riffs return for “Part of Me” and “Blind Belief,” a pair of dynamic head-bangers. Both are some of Majura’s and McLawhorn’s best playing on the album. The Bitter Truth shows Evanescence still has plenty of compelling music left to make.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.