For a band who’ve only put out three albums, Evanescence seem to bear the brunt of band tribulations more than most. Inter-band disputes led to multiple lineup changes, hiatuses and, subsequently, a totally inconsistent release schedule, to the point where any sort of movement from this band all feels like an occasion. And while something is better than nothing, their last proper full-length was released six years ago, so it’s hard not to be disheartened to see that Synthesis isn’t exactly a new album, rather a collection of tracks from across their career reworked with orchestral and electronic arrangements, as well as a couple of new ones for good measure.
Still, on paper, this looks to be a sure-fire winning formula. Evanescence always managed to stand out amongst the nu-metal crowd they were often lazily bundled in with thanks to the orchestral elements that highlighted a more elegant, gothic side, and to see them accentuated here – arranged by ridiculously successful and in-demand composer David Campbell, no less – is the obvious selling point of Synthesis. And from that standpoint, the production and composition on this album are both borderline flawless. Sure, when it’s not stabilised by additional electronics, tracks like Lithium can feel comparatively flimsy, but for the most part, the way in which Synthesis is executed can be frequently breathtaking. Of course it’s the gauzy beds of strings that do the most work instrumentally, but with the neo-classical touches that come from thick, taut backbeats like on My Heart Is Broken, the skittering beat against sunken horns on Never Go Back, or a particularly dramatic Lacrymosa, there’s a sense of power that exudes beyond a relatively simple orchestral setup. This only benefits Amy Lee as a vocalist too, who hits the cinematic, operatic notes that she’s always been extremely adept at and sounds phenomenal all the same, but with such a gliding instrumental canvas behind her and a sense of drama that can convincingly match that in her lyrics, Synthesis ends up exactly as its title would suggest, bringing together the best traits of Evanescence and showing them off in a fresh way.
This is best exemplified in the new tracks, and regardless of the care that’s clearly been put into this entire album, these feel like the moments where Synthesis really goes for broke and tries to make a statement. And while there’s something so remarkably gratifying about Lindsey Stirling’s somersaulting violin solo that breaks through the clattering percussion of Hi-Lo, it’s the closer Imperfection that has the most impact, combining monolithic electronic punches with a more restrained orchestral backdrop that gives Lee the chance to fully explode and unleash the fullest extent of her power.
Now, that’s not to oversell this, because for as good as it is, Synthesis comes across as an album with startlingly little replay value. It’s not hard to deem it something of a one-trick pony, and while that one trick definitely works, the fact it’s spread over an hour with little to no modulation can get fairly tiring. It also doesn’t help that some of Evanescence’s bigger songs feel slightly shafted here; they aren’t exactly bad, but Bring Me To Life definitely misses some heftier guitar crunch, and besides some additional string embellishments to replace the full-band bridge, My Immortal feels roughly the same as it always has. It’s certainly telling that none of Synthesis‘ problems ever amount to some huge, catastrophic fault, but peppering them around makes them all the easier to notice, not helped by the fact that virtually everything on offer is pulled from the same well. If Synthesis was perhaps cut down to an EP some of these issues would be alleviated, but as it stands, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore how bloated and self-indulgent it can all be.
Viewing it objectively though, the fact that so much effort and resource has been put into what is essentially a stopgap release shows the pride that Evanescence clearly have in their work, and that’s not something to be diminished. For what it aims to do, Synthesis is the impressive culmination of songs and a vision that should, by all rights, be a natural fit, and has turned out as just that. Longevity isn’t exactly on the table when it comes to this album and its replay factor is virtually nonexistent in places, but there’s an overall point for this album being made, and ultimately, it does succeed in those goals. If nothing else, it’s an interesting novelty that still has a fair bit to offer.
For fans of: Within Temptation, Delain, Epica
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Synthesis’ by Evanescence is out now on BMG / Sony Music Entertainment.