The Kerrang! staff’s top albums of 2021
There have been plenty of absolutely incredible albums released in 2021. Here are all the records that have rocked our individual years…
When Arkansas outsiders Evanescence crashed onto the scene with the unstoppable symphonic nu-metal of uber-single Bring Me To Life – and the broader melodrama of its ethereal parent album Fallen – back in 2003, few would have predicted they’d still be one of heavy music’s most important, influential and relevant bands 17 years down the line.
Bandleader Amy Lee’s statement on female representation in rock music posted to social media last week (11 August, 2020), however, proved that they remain just that, with the whole scene sitting-up and taking heed. Her band’s latest single Use My Voice – a collaboration with Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless and Within Temptation alongside various friends and family – proved their impressive reach and enduring quality. Upcoming LP The Bitter Truth (still only their fourth of original material) is undeniably one of this year’s most anticipated.
With a rich vision and virtuosity running throughout their catalogue, we would of course recommend start-to-finish listening. For newcomers looking for a quick way in, lapsed listeners after a refresher, or die-hards out for an argument, though, we humbly present our top 20 picks. We’ll see you in the comments…
Originally written by drummer Rocky Gray for his previous band Soul Embraced (under the title My Tourniquet), this pulsating classic was reworked and expanded by his Evanescence bandmates as the sixth track on Fallen. Like some whiter-than-white counterpart to the Marilyn Manson classic of the same name, its overtly Christian rock origins shine through in the deeply spiritual lyrics. ‘My God! My tourniquet,’ Amy pleads. ‘Return to me salvation!’ It’s the incessantly probing riff and the extra layer of gothic atmosphere (‘I’m dying / Praying / Bleeding / Screaming!’) that see it included on this list, mind.
Released two-and-a-half years before Fallen and limited to 2,500 copies in its original run, Evanescence’s first ‘full-length’ release Origin is now widely regarded as an extended collection of demos rather than an LP proper. Featuring rough-cut versions of eventual Fallen highlights Imaginary, Whisper and My Immortal, there’s limited reason for anyone other than die-hards to seek it out. Still, this swirling 230 seconds of shadowy sound stands out for Amy’s towering classical soprano delivery – the peak nu-metal synth/guitar interplay and additional death growls courtesy of Living Sacrifice vocalist Bruce Fitzhugh that are as heavy as anything else hidden away in the depths of the Evanescence vault.
A relic of the original 1998 Evanescence EP, Imaginary is a song that has endured and evolved throughout their career, most recently transmogrified into an electro-baroque highlight on 2017’s Synthesis. Its appearance as the seventh track on Fallen remains the definitive iteration. Amy has explained that the song is an ode to her old bedroom: a place to which she would retreat away from the stress and ugliness of the outside world. ‘I linger in the doorway / Of alarm clocks screaming monsters calling my name,’ she sings, at her evocative best. ‘Let me stay / Where the wind will whisper to me / Where the raindrops as they’re falling tell a story.’ The combination of wah-wah guitar solo and wailing vocals around the three-minute mark is a fantastical stand-out, transporting the listener to a place of crashing storm clouds, galloping adventure and rampant banshee spirit.
When Evanescence’s fourth LP – their first in six years – dropped in late 2017, there was slight consternation among fans finding out it was more interested in re-imagining existing hits than creating new ones. Alongside stirring Lindsey Stirling collaboration Hi-Lo, however, lead single Imperfection saw the record’s electro-orchestral composition deployed in service of something wholly original. A conceptually complex landmark, it finds Amy reckoning on the obvious (those blemishes and flaws that shape our individuality) while also delving deeper to come to terms with the inevitable sadness and loss that comes with the passage of the years. Building across almost seven minutes, from the forlorn pressed keys of its intro to the juddering r’n’b inflections of its main body and several soaring symphonic crescendos, this was proof of a virtuosity that had, for too long, lain dormant.
‘Playground school bell rings again / Rain clouds come to play again / Has no one told you she’s not breathing? / Hello I’m your mind giving you someone to talk to / Hello…’ Powered by a softly undulating piano and sparse strings, there’s a dreamy, ethereal feel about the ninth track on Fallen that runs through its flickering lyrics and hides real pain beneath. Written (along with Like You) about Amy’s sister Bonnie who passed away at a young age, it is a heartfelt examination of patchwork memory and its distillation of times past to the purest glittering gold. That Amy has never performed the song live is testament to its lingering pain and power.
Replacing All That I’m Living For as the third single from second album The Open Door following pressure from the band and their fanbase, Sweet Sacrifice feels like a potent statement of where Evanescence were at in 2006. ‘It’s true, we’re all a little insane,’ Amy sings, ‘But it’s so clear / Now that I’m unchained.’ Dealing with the same abusive relationship from her past that provided the base inspiration for much of Fallen, this is the sound of a performer galvanised by her own success, revelling in the ability to turn that pain into something positive as a hail of nervy guitars and tense strings fall around Lee’s wild-eyed performance. The P.R. Brown-directed music video – evoking the unsettling imagery of visionary filmmaker Tarsem Singh – added another layer of strained texture and cutting catharsis.
As of writing, we mightn’t even have the release date for massively-anticipated fifth album The Bitter Truth yet, but when the record’s lead-single dropped on April 24 it struck a nerve with fans as Evanescence’s first truly guitar-oriented composition in almost nine years. ‘I don’t need drugs,’ Amy pleads. ‘I’m already six feet low / Wasted on you / Waiting for a miracle / I can’t move on / Feels like we’re frozen in time / I’m wasted on you / Just pass me the bitter truth…’ There’s a timelessness about their sound that’s barely dated over the last two decades, but there is an urgency, experience and maturity written deep in here that assures Evanescence’s emotional potency has only been enhanced by the time away. A nod, too, to subsequent singles The Game Is Over and Use My Voice which emphasise their intention to return as a positive force at the head of the pack.
‘I pull away to face the pain / I close my eyes and drift away / Over the fear that I will never find / A way to heal my soul…’ The second single from Evanescence’s self-titled third album felt like a showcase for Amy Lee, both as a virtuoso songstress and a towering female figurehead in hard rock. Having begun working with Restore NYC – an organisation dedicated to helping the victims of sex trafficking – and imagining herself in their place, she found bittersweet inspiration. “As I was writing the song,” she told Kerrang! on release, “I was putting myself in that place – what would it be like to be trapped? Threatened? Alone? Unable to tell anyone what was happening because you’re afraid of what would happen?” Her never-more-impassioned performance is alive with empathetic authenticity.
The Open Door’s lead single is an unusually transparent, autobiographical dissection of Amy’s abortive relationship with Seether frontman Shaun Morgan: a tough-love song insistent that she won’t be brought down by anyone else’s addictions. ‘Couldn’t take the blame, sick with shame,’ she sings, with real heartbreak and venom. ‘Must be exhausting to lose your own game, selfishly hated / No wonder you’re jaded / You can’t play the victim this time…’ Paired with Marc Webb’s unforgettable music video – an arch reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood where Amy takes back control from The Big Bad Wolf – it was a very public watershed of confidence and catharsis, with the genre-mashing of symphonic rock, soul and electropop emphasising a talent finally unbound. Amy’s sisters Carrie and Lori lend their support, too, adding rich backing vocals to an already-luxuriant mix.
‘As much as I’d like the past not to exist it still does / And as much as I’d like to feel like I belong here / I’m just as scared as you…’ Originally regarded as one of Amy’s personal indulgences – a B-side at best – this stirring ballad was promoted to the self-titled track list on the encouragement of producer Nick Raskulinecz. Inspired by time spent leading a simpler life away from the band, it is an examination of the soaring highs and personal struggles experienced through Evanescence – and the fact that these songs are a part of her now. The track’s raw, stripped-down emotion (compared frequently to that of Icelandic alt. legend Björk) connected directly with fans, becoming something of an Evanescence anthem in the years since.
Returning after an indefinite break between their second and third albums, What You Want was the high-energy introduction to Evanescence’s self-titled era. A hooky, attitude-laden cut, it delivered much of the same rousing feeling as Call Me When You’re Sober had on The Open Door while sidestepping any personal gossip in favour of shining a spotlight on Amy’s long-term relationship with the fans. ‘Hello, hello remember me?’ she sings, the upbeat sound veering closer to that of European symphonic contemporaries Nightwish and Within Temptation than before. ‘I’m everything you can’t control / Somewhere beyond the pain / There must be a way to believe we can break through.’ An apt celebration of one of the strongest artist-fanbase bonds in heavy music.
Debut LP Fallen might’ve brought Amy Lee fame and fortune, but it also turned her life upside-down, taking her away from family and the stability of a home life on which she had built so much of her success. Feelings came to a head one night in Lisbon, where the singer found herself feeling isolated on tour looking through a hotel window into a starless sky over 4,000 miles from home. Your Star was composed right where she stood. ‘I’m alone now,’ she ponders. ‘Me and all I stood for, we’re wandering now / Holdin’ parts and pieces, swim lonely / Find your own way out…’ A fragile piano-line opens out, with chugging guitars, clattering synths and lamenting choral vocals painting a soundscape equal parts wonder and dread.
‘Hold on to me, love / You know I can’t stay long / All I wanted to say was I love you and I’m not afraid…’ Writing in the wake of the terrorist attacks that rocked the United States on September 11, 2001, Evanescence – like much of the rest of the planet – found themselves contemplating the fragility of peace, normality and life itself: the potential for one moment to change everything. The tenth track from Fallen sees them writing from the perspective of someone too-suddenly departed reaching out to loved ones for a final farewell. The combination of that snarling main riff and Amy’s glassy vocals still resonates with earthquaking emotive power.
Supposedly first written as a contribution to 2008 Studio Ghibli masterpiece Ponyo, but not quite fitting that innocent pastel vision, the final track on 2011’s self-titled LP was re-worked into a trilogy of sea-themed tracks (alongside Never Go Back and Oceans) and a powerful rumination on the acceptance of death. Built around a simple plinky-ponky electronic treatment perfectly evocative of the watery vision, it’s really all about Amy’s incredibly expressive delivery. ‘You used to captivate me by your resonating light,’ goes / Now, I’m bound by the life you left behind / Your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams / Your voice it chased away all the sanity in me.’ The heartbreak come in waves.
Hijacking one of Mozart’s most revered works takes some serious cojones. Inspired by having seen Miloš Forman’s Oscar-winning biopic Amadeus at a formative age, however, Amy incorporates the ghostly Lacrimosa sequence from the legendary Austrian composer’s Requiem Mass (her favourite piece of music) into this Open Door stand-out with outrageous assurance. Recruiting the Millennium Choir and a 22-piece orchestra as well as injecting some dark synth, there is a gleeful insidiousness that errs close to Jerry Goldsmith’s infamous soundtrack to The Omen. The title is a take on the Latin term for “weeping” and Amy’s lyrics evocatively revisit the tears shed in the years preceding. ‘I can’t change who I am, not this time / I won’t lie to keep you near me / And in this short life there’s no time to waste on giving up / My love wasn’t enough…’ Right in the feels.
Written five years before its release, at the tail-end of the 1990s, the fourth and final single from Fallen was a rebuke of the fake, over-sexualised image that had become the expected norm for female vocalists in American popular music. As her younger sister became more and more obsessed with ubiquitous popstars of the time like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Amy could see how their unrealistic, airbrushed image damagingly warped youthful expectations. ‘Perfect by nature / Icons of self indulgence / Just what we all need / More lies about a world that / Never was and never will be…’ Fittingly, the song itself is an epic substantial showcase of Evanescence’s raw power that requires no dressing-up.
‘Lithium, don’t want to lock me up inside / Lithium, don’t want to forget how it feels without / Lithium, I want to stay in love with my sorrow / Oh, but, God, I want to let it go…’ The Open Door’s second single was a showcase for Amy as the classical powerhouse, built around a tinkling piano and her incredibly wide-ranging vocals, with crashes of metallic instrumentation layered onto a base composition she penned as a 16-year-old. Unlike its Nirvana namesake, the song isn’t a direct reference to drugs, instead drawing comparisons between a medicated state and the numbness of uncertainty and depression. Paul Fedor’s icy music video perfectly compliments one of their most cinematically sweeping works.
In the early-2000s, Bring Me To Life was a song that changed everything. Although the nu-metal subgenre was in its dying throes, its blunt force and broad machismo continued to echo through popular metal. Here was a band offering the tinkling keys, deep hooks and emotional reflexivity of more-considered scene leaders Linkin Park, with a powerful female vocalist and dense gothic atmospherics that felt like an antidote to the gaudiness and grime of the years that had preceded it. Pivoting on the rap-rock inflections of Paul McCoy (vocalist in lesser-known alt. outfit 12 Stones), we’d argue that this isn’t the purest iteration of the Evanescence sound. Having picked up 2004’s Best Hard Rock Performance GRAMMY, platinum certifications around the world, and cover versions from artists as varied as Chris Daughtry, Gregorian and Katherine Jenkins, though – as well as kick-starting their globe-straddling career – we’re sure the band still hold it pretty close to their hearts.
A simple, slow-paced piano ballad that totally eschews electric instrumentation (aside from the final third of its single release), My Immortal was the song that properly set Evanescence apart from the pack. A benchmark for Amy’s vocals and original guitarist Ben Moody’s songwriting, it had been in circulation in various forms since 2000’s Origin, with the version featured on Fallen feeling definitive in its skeletal presentation and haunting strings. Amy has since expressed cringing regret about the album version, citing her naïveté as a young performer and the limited production value having “broken into” the studio to record. To the contrary, that sense of a moment stolen perfectly fits with Moody’s themes of spirits lingering long after death.
Bring Me To Life might have delivered the breakthrough, but Going Under was the moment Amy stepped properly into the spotlight: a fully-formed symphonic metal icon with enough sass and self-belief – even as a 21-year-old woman – to stand her ground in a male dominated scene. ‘Now I will tell you what I’ve done for you,’ she seethes. ‘Fifty-thousand tears I’ve cried / Screaming, deceiving and bleeding for you / And you still won’t hear me – I’m going under!’ Rising from a breathy whisper to a cathartic scream, her lyrics deal with the experience of coming out of a bad relationship, finding one’s self at the end of your tether and tapping into the strength to carry on. Those themes of unbending defiance have been writ large across the career that followed. Welded to their most air-punchingly affirmative chorus (‘I’m going under / Drowning in you / I’m falling forever / I’ve got to break through…’) and Ben Moody’s rock-hewn six-strings, it has become an unassailable anthem for fans struggling through hard times in the 17 years since.
There have been plenty of absolutely incredible albums released in 2021. Here are all the records that have rocked our individual years…
With “multiple positive COVID tests” in their touring party, the last few gigs of Evanescence’s U.S. run with Halestorm have been rescheduled.
It’s here: the Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2021…
Lzzy Hale joined Evanescence onstage for a duet on Linkin Park's Heavy.
In a new Reddit AMA, Evanescence's Amy Lee has answered some incredibly pressing fan questions – from her favourite song on Fallen to the most superior form of potato…
From Mastodon and Machine Head to Foo Fighters and Frank Turner, we rank the greatest albums from the year 2011…
From Gojira to Weezer to Evanescence and beyond, these are albums you need to listen to from the past six months.