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Perfectly hard, perfectly soft

Synthesizing opposing energies, Evanescence proves to be a study in well-blended and dramatic contrasts.

August 06, 2003|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Arkansas operatic hard-rock band Evanescence may not display any other Chinese influences, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a group that more fully embraces the ancient concept of yin and yang.

The quintet, fronted by riveting 21-year-old singer Amy Lee, started a tour on Monday at Universal Amphitheatre that solidified the impression established by its debut album "Fallen": This is the leading contender for pop arrival of the year.

What makes Evanescence so compelling so early is its synthesis of intriguing dualities. Pop melodies soar over titanic hard-rock rhythms, sweeping strings rise above eardrum-pummeling electric guitars, a female dominates in a male musical bastion.

Lee's gorgeous soprano is part Enya, part Sinead, part Bjork, radiating torment. With raven tresses setting off pancake face makeup, a tight-waisted black dress with ruffled skirt revealing striped tights and black Army boots, Lee evokes a Goth-punk great-granddaughter of "Gunsmoke's" Miss Kitty.

During the 70-minute set, her songwriting partner and lead guitarist, Ben Moody, and fellow instrumentalists John Le Compt (guitar), Will Boyd (bass) and Rocky Gray (drums) laid a monstrously strong musical foundation that was impressive, though not unique in the world of hard rock and nu-metal.

Together, however, they create a distinctive fusion of ferocious female yearning and male rage that does far more than shout "instant niche": It demonstrates the power of harmony and tension in juxtaposition.

Only occasionally do their lyrics exhibit comparable complexity, although over the course of "Fallen's" 11 songs, the obsessive focus on life in the throes of desperation builds to an undeniable climax.

The long-range worry is that Evanescence will paint itself into a corner unless Lee and Moody figure out a way to carry their passion over into other moods and emotions.

For now, however, "Fallen" constitutes a near-perfect distillation of the adolescent all-or-nothing vision of life and love.

Its apocalyptic stance works as drama rather than melodrama thanks to the band's adroit application of musical dynamics.

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