The Goth-metal band Evanescence (whose name is a synonym for “disappearance”) were originally formed in Little Rock, Arkansas by the duo of Amy Lee and Ben Moody in the mid-‘90’s, several years before the release of their smash 2003 debut album Fallen. Although that multiplatinum album was officially their debut release, Lee and Moody did make earlier indie recordings which only received very limited (read: personal) distribution: the self-titled Evanescence EP in 1998, the Sound Asleep EP in 1999, and one full-length CD titled Origin in 2000. For obvious reasons, these rarities became much-sought-after collector’s items after the band’s big 2003 breakthrough. However, singer Amy Lee has classified these early recordings as mere demos, and has recommended downloading them instead of paying high prices for CD copies.
Before 2003, these demos probably sounded impressive to anyone who heard them. These aspiring young Goth-rockers from Middle America seemed to know what they wanted to achieve, and they were clearly working hard to reach their goals. But after you’ve heard Fallen, these demos generally come across as underdeveloped tracks from the band’s gestation period – especially the early versions of songs which eventually turned up on the album.
Their self-titled 1998 EP showed the Evanescence aesthetic in its infancy. Only about 100 copies were printed on CD-R, for sale at their shows. Evanescence is here billed as the duo of Amy Lee and Ben Moody, with four others credited as “additional musicians” (including future members Will Boyd and Rocky Gray on one track apiece). Lee and Moody were both high school-aged at the time of this recording, which mainly consists of moody piano-based ballads. It’s fairly advanced for the work of an unsigned pair of teenagers. Lee already came across as a musician with strong potential, as both a vocalist and a pianist, although her vocals did not yet soar to their future operatic heights. Moody’s production was also impressive when you consider the small scale of the recording; he also played guitar, drums, and keyboards. The pair were able to create melancholy mood music on a shoestring, but it falls short of transcendence. Indeed, the dull early version of “Imaginary” is proof that Fallen was still five years down the road. Still, the Evanescence EP provided a good early hint of what these Arkansas teens were capable of. Lee’s usual emotion comes through the most on “Exodus”, while “So Close” comes the closest to the Evanescence sound the world has come to know.
Their second EP, recorded in 1999, was titled Sound Asleep, although it is sometimes referred to as Whisper. This six-song disc was limited to about 50 CD-R copies, and had no package artwork. On this set, the duo moved one step closer to their future sound. The quality was still demo level, but the music was a bit more sophisticated. Lee aimed higher as a vocalist, although her singing still didn’t connect as strongly as it did later. Reportedly made only to be given to family and friends, this EP contains two instrumentals, two versions of “Understanding” (including the same one from the previous EP, and a newer and slightly more ethereal version), and an early version of “Whisper” (which inevitably seems dull next to the Fallen version). The standout track that gives the EP value is the heartfelt ballad “Forgive Me”, which very nearly resembles a radio-ready pop hit. The Sound Asleep EP seems short and sweet before you notice the “hidden” closing track “Ascension of the Spirit”, a two-part string instrumental preceded by a long stretch of silence and a sound clip from the 1993 movie My Boyfriend’s Back.
1. Where Will You Go
5. So Close
7. The End
1. Give Unto Me
4. Forgive Me
5. Understanding (Evanescence EP version)
6. Ascension of the Spirit
Origin was their first full-length recording, limited to 2,500 copies and described by Lee as a collection of demos. By this time, Evanescence had become a trio after Lee and Moody recruited keyboardist David Hodges (who, like Moody, left the band after Fallen). Lee’s vocals are still not as piercing on these recordings as they are on Fallen, although they do sound remarkably mature for those of an 18-year-old. The instrumentation on these tracks – some of them are alt-metal, some of them are piano ballads – does resemble the instrumentation on the eventual album, but (like Lee’s vocals) it doesn’t connect as strongly on Origin. Thus, the early demo versions of the three songs that would later appear on Fallen (“Whisper”, “Imaginary”, and “My Immortal”) sound like underdeveloped prototypes. Likewise, the alt-metal tracks “Lies” and “Away From Me” sound so much like songs from Fallen that you can’t help but wish they had that album’s stronger vocals and presentation. Another weak track is the unfocused seven-minute closing instrumental “Eternal”, a jumble of ideas seemingly ripped off from Genesis, the Doors, and Metallica, and pieced together in no logical order.
On the upside, four of the tracks on Origin are quite respectable. The piano ballad “Where Will You Go” is more fully realized than the version on the 1998 Evanescence EP. “Even In Death” is an eerie Goth-metal song about mourning a dead loved one. The piano ballad “Field of Innocence” expresses a yearning for a return to childhood naïveté, and “Anywhere” is an entirely accessible rock ballad which mostly avoids the band’s dark tendencies. If you ever download songs from Origin (which Lee has suggested doing instead of purchasing the CD at a high price), then these four songs are the ones not to miss.
Notes: Origin was commercially released for the first time in 2017, as part of the 6-LP vinyl box set The Ultimate Collection. The title track “Origin” is a 35-second album intro which, if you are listening on CD, is accessed by rewinding the CD past the beginning of track 1.
3. My Immortal
4. Where Will You Go
5. Field of Innocence
6. Even in Death
9. Away From Me
The Origin-era Evanescence trio. l to r: Amy Lee, Ben Moody, David Hodges
Another EP which has made the collector rounds is called Mystary (note the oddly misspelled title). It was a five-track CD-R sampler of the Fallen album, sold at one of their shows in January of 2003, shortly before the album’s release in March of that year. It contained the same versions of “My Last Breath” and “Everybody’s Fool” from Fallen, “Farther Away” (the non-album B-side to “Bring Me To Life”), and alternate versions of “My Immortal” (stripped down, and without the climactic guitar-and-drums part from the Band Version) and “Imaginary” (slightly longer, with a slow-building intro).
1. My Last Breath
2. My Immortal (alternate version)
3. Farther Away
4. Everybody's Fool
5. Imaginary (alternate version)
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