"The Open Door" begins with a breath. Clearly, Amy Lee has a lot to get off her chest.
Since we last heard from the lead singer of Evanescence, with her previous album "Fallen" in 2003, she has lost more than just a few people who were close to her: during the tour for that album, Ben Moody, lead guitarist, co-founder and co-songwriter, left the band suddenly; William Boyd, the bassist, did the same three years later; and earlier this year, Lee ended a lengthy relationship with Shaun Morgan of the band Seether in a messy public breakup.
Fittingly, then, Lee alone is the main event on "The Open Door," the newest album from the band. Tumultuous relationships and loneliness manifest themselves clearly on the tracks, all of which are written by Lee in the first person. It feels as if each one is cathartic for her, and she seems to have a song for everyone.
"You know you live to break me," she accuses in "Sweet Sacrifice," apparently addressing Moody. "Are you still too weak to survive your mistakes?" A number of tracks appear to be aimed at her ex, especially the first single, "Call Me When You're Sober," and a piano number entitled "Lithium," which is sung from his apparently pathetic perspective. And in "Like You," Lee addresses her sister, who died in childhood, singing that she longs "to be like you, lie cold in the ground like you."
Rather than remain subsumed in the music and part of a larger experience, Lee grabs the reins of the musical production, making the album her own and relegating the rest of the band into obscurity. It is her voice that really gives Evanescence its edge. Her attitude on this album is more aggressive and less vulnerable than before. "I won't be held down by who I used to be," she sings in "Weight of the World."
Lee's predominance isn't always a blessing. Lacking her writing partner from the previous album, she collaborates with her new guitarist, Terry Balsamo, on a number of tracks. While she is clearly happy with the innovation, thanking her new partner in the liner notes as "someone who could finish my musical thoughts," fans might not be as thrilled. The musical content in this album leaves something to be desired.
Haunting orchestral arrangements and programming from DJ Lethal infuse the record, setting its emotional undertone, which is a nice touch. Similar to Evanescence's first album, "The Open Door" attempts to capitalize on the discord between slow piano movements and crunching guitar distortion; unfortunately, the band overdoes it this time. The distortion is monotonous, rolling through each song in a series of power chords that lacks technical mastery. Too many songs on this album are standard industrial nu-metal fare, and none stand out or have "can't-get-it-out-of-your-head" hooks. Piano pieces are something we have come to expect from Lee, and though these songs, such as "Lithium" and "Good Enough," do not disappoint, they do not come close to matching the haunting beauty of the previous album's "My Immortal."
Lee's strength lies in vocal arrangements and delivery. Her melodies are perfectly attuned to her range, from sublimely minimalist to roaringly operatic. The best two arrangements are "Cloud Nine" and "Lacrymosa," the latter of which is derived from Mozart's Requiem. Though Lee deserves credit for sampling a piece composed in the 18th century, it is telling that that the only memorable hook in "The Open Door" comes from a work from the Classical period.
An album in which the songs are indistinguishable from one another is not necessarily a flaw; the greatness of System of a Down's two-part masterpiece "Mezmerize/Hypnotize" rested in the fact that each song stood as only a part of a greater whole, much like a classical symphony. The problem here, however, is that each song doesn't contribute to the album's overall movement; instead, the album stays in the same place, repeating itself over and again.
Lee, 24, has been touted by critics as the "voice of her generation." Evanescence's first album, which sold over 14.5 million copies worldwide and went platinum six times, was experimental and not afraid to let a piano ballad stay a piano ballad without any rock-affiliated accompaniment — a rare commodity in today's "big chorus payoff"-driven market. And while "The Open Door" sticks to the formula, it lacks the freshness of its predecessor.
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