An ‘Origin’ Story

It seems to me that Evanescence doesn’t quite get the credit they deserve.  I’m not arguing that an award-winning band is unknown or hasn’t found commercial success, but most of what I see and hear about them in regular conversation seems to revolve around the culture surrounding them, overshadowing their actual music.  They were one of the core bands of the edgy teen demographic in the early 2000s (a designation I don’t intend pejoratively, as I was one of those edgy teens), and that reputation seems to have stuck; nowadays, their breakthrough hit “Bring Me To Life” has (d)evolved into a modern-day meme, and “My Immortal” seems more likely to call to mind the infamously bad fanfic than the song after which it was named.

Given the positive reception that the band received with their recent album Synthesis—their first in six years—it’s entirely possible that my experiences are an outlier (or Evanescence may be one of those bands that are performatively joked about and more people like them than will publicly own up to it), but nonetheless I find it disheartening that most of the references I hear to the band nowadays are in some way a joke that disregards the quality of their music.

But among all of their works, from recent releases to the album that precipitated their fame, I still think a true hidden gem among their music is their oft-overlooked demo album, Origin.  Of course, it’s overlooked for a reason, given that the album was originally self-released and didn’t see a commercial release until last year, when the band released a boxset of all their albums on vinyl, but it’s an intriguing composition that merits a great deal of attention.  Being a demo album, it does have somewhat of a rough production, but only in the sense that it isn’t as sharp as their commercial releases.  If you’re a fan of their music, especially their earlier works, the production value is unlikely to hinder your enjoyment, particularly with Amy Lee’s lead vocals shining as brightly and accented by (now-former) backing vocalist Ben Moody’s harmonizing.

Origin_(Evanescence_album_cover)

Image courtesy wikipedia.org

Its eleven tracks range from the title track, which acts as an eerie intro, to closer “Eternal,” a seven-minute instrumental outro grounded in piano, backed by synths, and accented by guitar as the piece advances.  In-between, the album has a slightly more gothic rock aesthetic than the rest of Evanescence’s work, its tone slightly darker and more haunting; as a whole, however, Origin is clearly the beginnings of the band’s first full release in Fallen.

That’s particularly true in the album’s early versions of three Fallen tracks; the original rendition of “My Immortal” is largely the same, a piano-focused, emotional ballad, though it lacks the orchestration that was later added.  The early versions of “Whisper” and “Imaginary” are both incredibly interesting to listen to, however; the former uses sharp whispers during the choruses, which feels more thematically appropriate—if less melodic—than the subdued backing vocals in the Fallen version, matching with the bleak and haunting tone of the song.  Meanwhile, “Imaginary” has a different structure, including an altered second chorus.  I wouldn’t be able to say any of these are or are not the definitive versions of the tracks, but at the very least, it’s interesting to hear where Fallen began.

Where Origin really gets interesting, however, is in the tracks that (unfortunately) never saw as much exposure.  “Where Will You Go” is an organ-grounded track addressed to a self-sabotaging person who won’t listen to reason, its bridge poignantly crying, “I can hear you in a whisper / But you can’t even hear me screaming.”  “Lies” is one of the heavier tracks, with vocalizations, whispers, and distorted voices bringing to life the album’s eerier side.

Away From Me” follows through on a similar note; distorted electronic sounds among heavy guitars set the scene for the defeating tale of regret and self-loathing it presents.  Though Lee’s vocals are gorgeous as always, this track bears some of the most notable backing vocals from Moody, poignantly harmonizing in the choruses as the song builds, amplifying its hopeless story.

Anywhere,” on the other hand, is one of the album’s most soothing offerings, and possibly its best.  A gentle guitar fade-in sets the delicate tone of the six-minute ballad that simultaneously bemoans the suffocation of everyday life while pleading to a beloved to escape with them.  Lee’s vocals begin at a soft croon, with Moody harmonizing effectively during the choruses, but as the music rises and guitar begins to kick in, her vocals ascend to a powerful point wherein she’s crying out a message of comfort, making it hard not to feel content and warm by the end.

At the very least, Origin is undeniably compelling in that it shows the beginnings of a band like Evanescence that made such a splash in music, but it’s so much more than that.  The songwriting, vocal, and instrumental talent that they came to display for the past fifteen years is also present in Origin, and that’s patently obvious even without the resources they had to record their later albums.  If Evanescence isn’t your cup of tea, Origin is unlikely to be any different, but it can at least be a great way to freshen your perspective on the band.  If you love the band and Origin has slipped your notice for one reason or another, then you are unequivocally missing out, and I implore that you fix that, whether that means investing in the vinyl boxset or just flipping through tracks on YouTube.  It’s a rough album, but it’s full of beautiful, moving music.

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