Sunday, November 21, 2010

Evanescence After The Fall: We Are The Fallen's Tear The World Down Is A Mixed Bag.

The Good: Great vocals, Some wonderful lyrics
The Bad: Short, Instrumentally predictable
The Basics: With the departure of Amy Lee, Evanescence picked up Carly Smithson as lead vocalist and continues to make remarkably similar music with Tear The World Down.

I am out of the loop on popular music of late. Since I began moving reviews more than writing new ones - a process that is a few months away from being done, sadly - none of my reviewing has suffered quite as much as my music reviews. I mention this because when my wife recently purchased Tear The World Down by the group We Are The Fallen, that was the first I learned that Evanescence had broken up. We Are The Fallen's "debut" album - I write that in quotes because it is essentially the band less Amy Lee, but with Carly Smithson as lead vocalist - sounds a lot like an Evanescence album, though the flavor and instrumental accompaniment may even be more like Nightwish than Evanescence. In other words, those looking to feel refreshed by what is essentially the continuation of Evanescence have a lot to be pleased with, but those of us looking to hear something truly new are bound for some sense of disappointment.

Tear The World Down is a goth-pop blend wherein a band that is heavy with the guitars, bass, and drums is led by a distinctly feminine voice. While there are strings on "I Am The Only One" and choirs on that song and "Burn," Tear The World Down suffers both because it is so short and because the sound is not nearly as fresh or original sounding as it might have been a decade ago. This makes for a much more middling album than I, or ultimately my wife after a dozen spinnings, had hoped for.

With only eleven tracks occupying just over forty-seven minutes, Tear The World Down is distinctly the work of We Are The Fallen. The band members wrote all of the tracks and the quintet plays all of the primary instruments on the album. Carly Smithson provides all of the lead vocals and and the album is co-produced by the band. In other words, this is exactly the sound the band wanted to produce.

Largely, the sound is good, even if it is terribly unoriginal. The title track could be a lost Nightwish song the way the guitars flare up in the song's climax. Most of the songs oscillate greatly between moments of quiet and loud guitar, which is very much the sound and style of Evanescence. True to their radio hits from Fallen and The Open Door, We Are The Fallen (as the reincarnation of Evanescence) diverges from the gothic rock formula for songs like "Sleep Well, My Angel." On that song, the piano is the primary instrument and the ballad is instantly reminiscent of "My Immortal," which might be why We Are The Fallen is the first single from the album. The truth is, more chaotic songs like "Through Hell" and "Bury Me Alive" are tougher sells for radio stations around the U.S. and the band went with the most logical single. So, while the use of violins on a song like “Bury Me Alive” might be audacious for general pop music, it sounds very familiar to those who like Evanescence or Nightwish, just as the angry drumming that opens “Burn” sounds more familiar than full of impact.

Vocally, We Are The Fallen is somewhat monolithic as Carly Smithson's vocals vary little between the tracks. This is not to say that Smithson doesn't have a good voice; she does. Smithson is a soprano with range and an expressive quality that makes her the logical successor to Amy Lee. On songs like "St. John," Smithson presents a beautiful, melodic voice that is astonishing for its range and clarity. Smithson sings beautifully and is able to traverse a fairly high register down into the upper alto range. All the while she is clear and on songs like "Don't Leave Me Behind," she is emotionally expressive in a way that makes the song truly special.

But what drives Tear The World Down into the upper ranges of the average territory is the lyrical quality. The band is appropriately dark in many of their lyrics and those who liked Evanescence will find that thematically, We Are The Fallen keeps in the tradition of its original band. Lines like “My paradigm / My sweet love I breathe / It's you I rely on / Shelter me from cold / I'm dying paradigm / Do we sacrifice? / Let our story die? / Blissful lullabies return again / Let me stay awhile / Let love survive / Delicately crawling to your grace” (“Paradigm”) illustrate an uncommon level of poetry in popular music today. Many of the songs are about relationships that are not quite functional and listeners of Goth pop will be happy about that.

But more than some emo stereotype, We Are The Fallen has a real ability to say something. The songs have a flavor that is evocative of the night and many of them are expressive with a surprising maturity of angst. Instead of whining about problems in a “poor pity me” way, Smithson sings “I wake in the night / And I pray that I've been dreaming / There's nowhere to hide / From this nightmare calling to me / Fear in me / Stays in me / The nightmares inside here / My dark fears all in my head again / The nightmares I fight here / All my tears pull me through hell again” (“Through Hell”) and it is impossible not to empathize with the musical protagonist.

Unfortunately, the comparison to Evanescence holds with some of the weaknesses of Tear The World Down. Songs like “Bury Me Alive” fall back on old problems when the song devolves into repetition of the key line, making one feel there wasn’t quite enough of the song to begin with. The lines “Everybody's gotta breathe, somehow don't leave me to die / You're too consumed by all your emptiness and lies” (“Bury Me Alive”) come up too frequently and while the lines are poetic and delivered with an appropriate musical force, they become banal over frequent repetitions.

Even so, it is easy to recommend Tear The World Down. The title track is dark and angry with a lush quality and when We Are The Fallen isn’t busy assaulting the ears of their listeners with the frenetic guitars they no-doubt expect, the band is delivering ballads filled with true soul.

The best track is “Sleep Well, My Angel,” (though “I Am Only One” is impressive), the low point is the less memorable “I Will Stay.”

For other contemporary albums, please check out my reviews of:
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams
Laws Of Illusion - Sarah McLachlan
Fearless Love - Melissa Etheridge


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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