Since Evanescence's 2003 major-label debut Fallen, Century Media Records has managed to push Italian band Lacuna Coil's sixth release, Karmacode, pretty close to the U.S. mainstream.
So the secret is out: Virtually every "innovation" of America's favorite symphonic pop-metal band was done first - and better - by an obscure European act. The female vocals. The electronic tinges. The keyboards. Fallen is simply a collection of solid, intense songs, and most Evanescence fans are probably okay with that.
Which is why the American group's The Open Door, released Tuesday, will succeed as well. The tunes are as good as ever, and the musicianship takes some important steps forward.
At 13 songs and about 55 minutes, The Open Door has some wiggle room for experimentation and filler. However, though the ballads do get a little cheesy at times - on "Good Enough," singer Amy Lee tries adding a tinge of soul or jazz to her delivery, and it just sounds contrived - the songwriting is concise and powerful.
"Lithium" (not a Nirvana cover) and "Snow White Queen" feature soaring, catchy melodies, while "Cloud Nine" and "Lose Control" explore an evil-infused darkness not found on Fallen. And of course first single "Call Me When You're Sober" walks the line between pop sensibilities and ethereal atmospherics quite well.
Throughout the record synthesized strings play an important role, making everything sound just a little more epic. Lee's famed choral arrangements pop up from time to time, most notably on "Lacrymosa," and all the piano passages stand head and shoulders over the tedious chord clomping of Fallen's "My Immortal."
On guitar, Terry Balsamo (ex-Cold) replaces founding member Ben Moody, and the newcomer proves much better at adding a little flourish here and there. The riffs-by-the-ton masterpiece "Your Star" is something Moody could not have written, and hopefully it's a sign of good things to come. Balsamo also shines on "Like You" with simple but dramatic clean rhythm work.
That's not to say Balsamo didn't pick up some of Moody's worst habits. The heavier guitar tones can sound pretty lifeless, making listeners thankful that a good portion of the record is gentle. And on some tracks Balsamo's inspiration seems to shut off as the distortion clicks on - a few of the riffs sink into oh-my-god-he's-ripping-off-Linkin-Park-chugga-chugga-nu-metal territory.
If Evanescence didn't invent the "metal with Kelly Clarkson-league vocals" formula, they do it justice on The Open Door. With marked development since Fallen and a set of straight-through worthwhile songs, the album will have a good run.
Robert VerBruggen blogs at http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com. He is a freelance writer and an apprentice editor at The National Interest in Washington, DC.