Is Amy Lee the voice of her generation? It’s a tough gig in our fragmented age, but the Evanescence singer has something to offer every niche in the market. She’s a sweet Southern girl with a freaky Goth side, a church-camp nerd who can shriek like a metal messiah, the frontwoman of a band that mixes in hip-hop, industrial, and art rock. She’s everywhere you need to be if you never feel at home. On 2003’s major-label debut Fallen, Lee and her band from Little Rock, Ark., went six times platinum, reaching far beyond their original Christian-rock fans. But things haven’t been rosy since they went supersize. Guitarist Ben Moody left mid-tour, guitarist Terry Balsamo suffered a stroke, and the band fell out with its longtime management.
Lee, 24 and now living in Manhattan, has drawn energy from all this weirdness, and the band’s follow-up, The Open Door, is more personal and, by accessing a deeper emotional palette, maybe even more universal. Fallen’s hits — the heraldic rap-rocker ”Bring Me Back to Life” and the piano basher ”My Immortal” — ingeniously mixed the spiritual and secular. They could be odes to the Almighty or the boy two desks over who just got his first Hot Topic hair-dye kit.
The songs of pain and redemption on The Open Door, however, dwell mostly in the realm of earthly romantic peril. The music is still the same crush of chunka-chunka riffs, moody electronic churn, and Valhalla-bound metal slam, all in service of Lee’s strikingly operatic singing. But Lee has evolved. ”It’s true we’re all a little insane/But it’s so clear now that I’m unchained,” she sings on the opener, ”Sweet Sacrifice,” a bruising breakup lament that turns into an anthem of freedom. Soon, on ”Weight of the World,” she’s back under her unspecified tormentor’s spell, demanding ”If you love me then let go of me.” Addicted to love, Lee explores addiction itself on the roiling ”Call Me When You’re Sober” and tortured Queensrÿche-style pain strummer ”Lithium.”
Later on, things get downright steamy. ”Lose Control” is almost sacrilegious, finding childlike release in sin: ”Mary had a lamb/His eyes were black as coals/If we play very quiet, my lamb/Mary never has to know.” The even crazier ”Snow White Queen” gets inside the mind of a male predator, like a hard-rock take on Tori Amos’ ”Me and a Gun.” Unfortunately, just as Lee starts digging into fascinating psychological territory, she pulls back for a couple of ponderous ballads. But the deceptively soft ”Good Enough” flirts again with the dark side, offering ”Drink up sweet decadence/I can’t say no to you” and striking a final note of cathartic badness. It’s the new Amy Lee — wilder urges, deeper pains, a mess of new voices to call her own.