Multi-platinum rockers Evanescence chart their journey through the conception and creation of their new album, “The Bitter Truth,” amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The road to the first Evanescence studio album since 2017, “The Bitter Truth,” began on an inauspicious note. After safety concerns forced promoters to cancel the final date of the band’s 2019 tour on Nov. 30 at Knotfest Mexico, a small group of angry attendees set fire to Will Hunt’s drum kit. Rather than let any lingering frustrations fester, Hunt and the rest of Evanescence used them as creative fuel.
During the video for the band’s thundering 2020 take on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Hunt pounds away on a kit that slowly becomes engulfed in flames. In context with the music, the fiery gesture has double meaning, representing the ominous finality within the song’s lyrics and symbolizing the band’s potential for a phoenix-like rise.
Embracing rebirth and resiliency is very in character for Evanescence; in fact, these ideas are central to the band’s appeal. Co-founded in 1995 by Amy Lee — a classically trained pianist with a piercing voice that cuts like a hot knife through butter — the group experienced numerous lineup changes over the years before settling into its current five-piece configuration.
Thematically, Evanescence’s lyrics frequently wade into darkness before moving into the light. Lee wrote the chugging, symphonic nu-metal hit “Bring Me to Life” about her future husband’s perceptive tendencies and ability to lift her out of emotional quicksand, while the protagonist of the orchestra-swept power rocker “Call Me When You’re Sober” is ready to cut ties with a toxic ex. There aren’t always happy endings in Evanescence songs — the aching piano ballad “My Immortal” touches on being unable to shake a powerful absent presence — but there’s always empathy for anyone navigating grief and sadness.
These coping mechanisms came in especially handy throughout 2020, as Evanescence collectively had to figure out how to finish its new studio album, “The Bitter Truth,” while dealing with the pandemic lockdown. Not only was health and safety a concern, but travel restrictions meant that guitarist Jen Majura couldn’t leave Germany to join up with the band.
Despite these hurdles, the musicians are in candid and upbeat moods throughout “Embracing the Bitter Truth,” the engaging, making-of documentary for the album. Part of this calmness came because they cleared any obstacles with novel solutions. Each U.S.-based band member quarantined by using a separate tour bus to travel to Nashville, where Evanescence recorded with producer and mixer Nick Raskulinecz (Queens of the Stone Age, Alice in Chains) in his Rock Falcon Studio. Majura, meanwhile, was able to film audio and video of herself in a German studio for a December 2020 one-off concert live stream.
In the film, Lee becomes particularly animated about finding ‘a little piece of something normal, in a time where nothing feels like it will ever be normal again.’
Music provided solace during a trying time. In the film, Lee becomes particularly animated about finding “a little piece of something normal, in a time where nothing feels like it will ever be normal again.”
“It’s weird, but it felt good to be reminded that we’re good at something,” she says, “’cause it’s hard not to just feel like everything’s too hard this year.”
That honesty and urgency, when coupled with the challenges and changes going on in the world, led Evanescence to a deeper and more intense sound on “The Bitter Truth.” The nu-metal-tinted “The Game is Over” boasts seething riffs and monstrous drums, while “Better Without You” features a guttural, bubbling-tar low end and storm-swept orchestral parts.
Hunt characterizes the album as “probably the heaviest thing that we’ve ever done” musically, with “the most pointed and timely lyrics that I think Amy’s ever written.” The propulsive “Use My Voice” encourages people to speak up for their rights. Fittingly, the single was also used in fall 2020 to spur voter participation, and came with a stirring video extolling activism and political action.
“I had a moment when we were mixing ‘Use My Voice’ — I just felt this weight in my heart, this conviction,” Lee says. “We had to do more than just write a protest song. We needed to do something that could actually potentially inspire people and move people, and help to shine light on truth.”
That desire to make a difference — to fans, crew, studio staff and even one another — more than anything sustained Evanescence during a trying time. In discussing using the drum-kit-on-fire imagery in “The Chain,” Lee says, “I think there’s always a way to take the situation you’re given and make something out of it — go with it, use it. We’ve had to do it more and more and more this year.”
Instead of being stymied by obstacles or derailed plans, Evanescence stayed nimble, dialed in its focus and found a creative groove — setting the stage for an exciting new chapter.
Annie Zaleski is an award-winning journalist, editor and critic based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her profiles, interviews and criticism have appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, NPR Music, Guardian, Salon, Billboard, Stereogum, The A.V. Club and more. Zaleski wrote the liner notes for the 2016 deluxe edition of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” and contributed an essay to the 2020 Game Theory compilation “Across the Barrier of Sound: PostScript.” Her book on Duran Duran’s “Rio” for the 33 1/3 book series comes out in May 2021. She is currently working on the book “Why the B-52s Matter” for University of Texas Press.