Review: Evanescence’s ‘Synthesis’ Is A Stunning Reimagining Of Beloved Catalog
Evanescence has a skill for making fans wait for new music. A full five years passed between their second and third albums; it’s now been six years since Evanescence graced our ears. While we’ve enjoyed plenty of side projects from frontwoman Amy Lee in the interim (Aftermath, an album of film score she composed, and Dream Too Much, a children’s album), all we’ve gotten from the full band since then are intermittent tours and a rerelease of their back-catalog – including Origin – on vinyl. Finally, Evanescence fans celebrated the day their newest release, Synthesis, was announced.
In many ways, Synthesis serves as an alternative to the straight-forward greatest hits compilation. Of the sixteen songs, eleven of them were first heard on the band’s three studio albums. Two new songs and three instrumental pieces round out the set. But, ever creative and pushing the boundaries, the songs here have been rerecorded with a new twist. Stripped away are the heavy guitars and drums. In their place, we hear a full orchestra mixed with electronic beats and synths. Synthesis is a fusion of two elements that have pervaded Evanescence’s music, but this time they are at the forefront.
As peculiar as the marriage of classical and electronic music may seem, they blend amazingly well on Synthesis. And although fans have known these songs by heart for years, the new recordings here are refreshing, in many cases feeling brand new once more. While some track stay true to their original recordings, others veer into exciting new territory. The two previously unheard songs – Evanescence leftover “Hi-Lo” and newly-written “Imperfection” – are standouts on the album. Meanwhile, the three instrumental pieces are the glue that hold this whole record together. “Overture” opens the album like the tuning before a symphony begins. “Unraveling” is a perfect intermission halfway through, while “The In-Between” beautifully introduces our encore performance.
The newly-recorded songs offer up fresh perspectives on the music and lyrics. Instrumentally, there are plenty of elements to listen for that you may have never noticed in the original recordings. Some of the songs feel more fleshed out and filled in; others have been given extra room to breathe. It is especially in the latter category where the lyrics are enhanced. Many of the songs feel more emotionally stirring in part because the words stand out better amongst the music. Songs like “Lithium” and “End Of The Dream” hit harder this time around. Likewise, Amy’s vocals offer up new perspective. In a couple of the songs, she sings in a more vulnerable, impassioned style, in effect bringing out the raw emotion of the songs. In others, she sings more fiercely than ever before.
No matter how well you already know the band’s back catalog, the new recordings on Synthesis truly stand on their own and merit their own listen. Even hardcore fans will find new elements to love, and the songs feel fresh again. The album is a delightful, classy reimagining of Evanescence’s already impressive songs. Synthesis is an experience and a true masterpiece.
Track by Track
“Overture” – The album starts gently, with a single piano note repeating as a full orchestra gradually joins in. Additional piano complements the original repeated note, and the orchestra crescendos until its climatic end. The track, only one minute long, makes you feel like you’re at the symphony, about to absorb a night of classical virtuosity. In fact, this impression isn’t far off base. “Overture” blends perfectly into the next track’s opening.
“Never Go Back” – The first full song on the album, “Never Go Back” originally appeared on the band’s last record, Evanescence. It picks up where “Overture” left off, with piano and lush strings building up a picturesque soundscape. A minute into the track, the instrumentation opens up for to spotlight Amy’s singing. It isn’t until the chorus that the electronic side of Synthesis makes its grand entrance. The fusion may take a song or two to get into, but once it clicks, you’ll find that it works amazingly well. “Never Go Back” transforms into an epic piece that’s more dynamic and impactful than the original version.
“Hi-Lo” – Next up is our first of two new tracks on Synthesis. Although fans never heard “Hi-Lo” before this year, the song was actually among the first written for Evanescence. Fans have known about the title for the last six years, and the song exceeds the hype that built up over all this time. “Hi-Lo” fades in like a whisper, built on soft piano and flute, subtle electronic beats and clicks, and a sighing symphony. The chorus crashes in, creating the dreamy atmosphere of a faraway land. The chord progression sounds eastern, exotic compared to the western songs we usually hear. The bridge is stunning, intense strings leading up to an incredible violin solo from Lindsey Stirling. Amy’s piano joins in to duet with the violin, eventually slamming back into the cinematic chorus. “Hi-Lo” is a majestic standout on Synthesis.
“My Heart Is Broken” – Continuing with the self-titled era, “My Heart Is Broken” starts with orchestra. The electronic elements and vocals come in together, blending well with the symphonic flare. Amy sounds weaker on the first verse, more authentically and convincingly communicating her broken-hearted state. Heavenly harp (played by the teacher who taught Amy a decade ago) complements Amy’s high vocals during a lilting bridge.
“Lacrymosa” – Track 5 tacks us farther back to a highlight from The Open Door. It starts with the sung refrain, “I can’t change who I am,” an element taken from the song’s bridge. Epic strings – piercing and ghostly – truly make the song, and the orchestra blends well with the electronic. The line that started the song returns in the bridge, the earlier foreshadowing unveiling a dramatic climax. Amy hits some amazingly high notes at the end, a final shriek to end the song with a bang. This new version of “Lacrymosa” matches the original – which was already perfect – offering up new elements that make it stunning.
“The End Of The Dream” – “Lacrymosa” ends with an eerie low hum, fading into this Evanescence track. At first, Amy begins singing over just that bassy grumble, with little bells chiming spookily between lines. It’s an unsettling effect, but the booming chorus relieves the tension. The song is more electronic than most of the other tracks here, and the bridge is glitchy and weird. While the verses maintain their suspenseful rumble, the choruses crash by comparison. This new version of “The End Of The Dream” may very well be better than the original.
“Bring Me To Life” – The first track we heard from the album, “Bring Me To Life” was also the first single from Evanescence’s debut album, Fallen. This version remains the weakest song on Synthesis, the parts never quite gelling the way they do in the other tracks. It begins nicely, with a symphonic intro and the verses’ screamy sound that stood out on the original version. Unfortunately, the chorus sounds awkward, not reaching the level of the song’s predecessor. It’s nice to hear a recording of “Bring Me To Life” the way it was originally intended (without the rapper, that is), but the Synthesis style doesn’t work that well here.
“Unraveling (Interlude)” – Just like in a proper symphony performance, halfway through Synthesis we get a brief intermission. “Unraveling” is gentle and pretty, a serene blend of piano and the full orchestra. It veers into dark, foreboding territory, yet the harp and big strings maintain that beauty just the same.
“Imaginary” – That interlude goes right into our next Fallen track, “Imaginary.” The song starts with its signature strings, along with some complementary orchestra, then switches to an old-school electronic vibe as Amy starts the first verse. She’s singing more brightly here, capturing the youthful innocence of the lyrics. While the heavy electronics form the base of this track, the symphony provides perfect accompaniment that melds well within the mix. After an intense and epic bridge, the final chorus sees the orchestra return to the spotlight.
“Secret Door” – The original 2011 debut of this song was already well-suited to the Synthesis sound, and it doesn’t change too much in this new recording. Harp paints the base, while electronic drums and synths fill in the gaps. The chorus moves into swirly, dreamy territory, gliding through music that feels untethered and free. The song’s chorus is unexpectedly reminiscent of the band Muse, who are also known for mixing orchestral elements with rock music. “Secret Door” is a sprightly, delightful inclusion on the album.
“Lithium” – Our next Open Door track starts with unfamiliar strings and tinkles, but as soon as the piano and vocal come in, it’s unmistakably “Lithium.” The orchestra fades in, building the song up beyond its original heights. It remains gentle throughout, and Amy’s vocals are more vulnerable and impassioned than before. Though “Lithium” was a big single a decade ago, I admit it was never a personal favorite of mine. However, this new version is fully moving and more striking, even better than the original.
“Lost In Paradise” – The final Evanescence song on the album was a highlight in 2011 and is a highlight now. “Lost In Paradise” starts with enchanting, dark cellos that gradually leave behind the gloom for something more hopeful. It sounds like returning home after long, tragic adventure – the resolution at the end of a movie. The first chorus maintains a tender, minimalistic sound, but the chorus becomes beautifully cinematic. Following an intense, electronic verse and a staggering bridge, the song ends on an uplifting note. Though it didn’t seem possible, this new version of “Lost In Paradise” manages to improve upon an already perfect song.
“Your Star” – A surprising inclusion, the last song from The Open Door is among the most interesting tracks here. It starts where the blinking end of the previous song left off, creating a backdrop for the signature piano intro. In contrast to the vocal dynamics showcased in 2006, here Amy sings “star” with unrelenting power. It sounds too loud at first – especially if you’re accustomed to the original version – though you get used to it. When she gets to the chorus, singing “and I’m alone now,” the clinking background and sultry vibe breathe new life into the song. The second time around, strings add even more to the chorus. In the end, this version of “Your Star” may be better than the original – though “star” still sounds best on The Open Door.
“My Immortal” – You can’t have an Evanescence compilation without their biggest hit. For better or worse, “My Immortal” remains the band’s signature song. The new version here does it justice beautifully. Lovely strings introduce the song, followed by that familiar, delicate piano refrain. The orchestra amplifies the song, ensuring that this version is lush and gorgeous. While the 2003 recordings were somber, this version sounds refreshingly hopeful, like finding the light at the end of a tunnel. It walks a fine line between the two recordings heard on Fallen – the piano version and the full band version. It’s a perfect addition to the album – one that will please casual listeners and longtime fans alike.
“The In-Between (Piano Solo)” – After that gentle ballad, a piano solo is the perfect way to transition to the album’s closing song. “The In-Between” starts hesitatingly, gradually growing more confident as it becomes ever more rapid and urgent. It’s low and ominous, then slows down just before screeching strings cut it off. This piano solo serves as an intro to “Imperfection,” and in fact can be heard in the single’s music video.
“Imperfection” – Synthesis closes with its second new song, which Amy wrote earlier this year. “Imperfection” is very electronic, and sounds like the kind of song that could have appeared on Fallen. Amy spits the lyrics fiercely, capturing the cool intensity that defines the band. The chorus is huge and rousing, passionately imparting the heavy lyrics about suicide. It’s an incredible new song in Evanescence’s catalog, a promise of more greatness to come. “Imperfection” doesn’t quite feel like an ending song – instead, it leaves you wanting even more of Synthesis.
Highlights on Synthesis include: “Hi-Lo,” “Lacrymosa,” “The End Of The Dream,” “Lost In Paradise,” “Your Star,” and “Imperfection.”
You can buy Synthesis on iTunes or stream it on Spotify now.