"It’s more than sales – it inspired an entire generation of young girls to know they had a place in heavy music." Inside Fallen: the album that turned Evanescence into instant 21st century metal superstars

Amy Lee in 2003
(Image credit: Frank Veronksy)

Evanescence’s Amy Lee was at one of the many awards ceremonies she attended back in the first half of the 2000s when she was approached by a fan. This wasn’t unusual in itself, except this fan happened to be rapper and mogul P. Diddy.

“He said, ‘I love your album, I listen to it when I work out’,” Amy tells Hammer today. “And I was like ‘Really? That’s awesome!’ That was surprising to me. You know who I am? That’s weird.” Weird is right. Just a couple of years earlier, Amy had been a shy, aspiring singer and songwriter who had played no more than a handful of times with the band she’d co-founded as 13-year-old almost a decade earlier. And now here she was, getting star-spotted by hip hop A-listers at swanky awards ceremonies.

“What do they call that thing? Imposter syndrome!” she recalls today. “I definitely felt like I’d snuck in the back door and somehow got to go to the Grammys. Like, ‘I’m not supposed to be here and people do not know who we are and this is a prank.’ I think part of that is just it all happening so fast and being so young.”

The reason for the attention was down to the blockbusting success of Evanescence’s debut album, Fallen. Originally released in March 2003, and about to be reissued as a deluxe 20th anniversary edition, Fallen appeared at the tail-end of the nu metal boom. It offered a gothier, more dramatic take on that sound, which bridged nu metal and both the rising symphonic metal and emo scenes. It would go on to sell more than 10 million copies in the US alone, turning Amy Lee into an icon and role model for a generation of young, female fans.

Amy describes the young, pre-Evanescence version of herself as “a little bit shy”. Earlier this year, she told Hammer’s sister magazine, Classic Rock, that the death of her younger sister, Bonnie, when Amy was six, was a catalyst for “this soul, spirit- searching, expression mode”, which would eventually manifest itself in music. She wrote her first song aged 12, and others quickly followed. “I wrote plenty of songs that were crap,” she says with a laugh. “You just haven’t heard them.”

Things became more serious when she met future Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody in 1994 at a Christian Youth Camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, where her family had moved to a few years earlier. She was 13 and Ben a year older, though the two decided they could make music together. Amy describes their initial endeavours as “more like an electronic duo, like Massive Attack” than an actual band, though some of their early songs would end up on Fallen, including Imaginary, Whisper and My Immortal.

The nascent Evanescence didn’t play a gig for nearly six years, partly because of their youth, and partly because they wanted to concentrate on honing the songs they were writing. “The live part for me at that time just wasn’t my focus,” she shrugs. “I wanted to make stuff.”

Their first release was a self-titled debut EP that came out in 1998 via local label Bigwig, followed by another EP, Sound Asleep, the following year (both featured songs that appeared on Fallen). They’d played a few a low-key acoustic shows in their early days, but their first proper, plugged-in show was at a bar named Vinos in Little Rock on January 2, 1999, less than a month after Amy turned 17.

“It was difficult to be on stage at first,” she says. “I had to really work at being a good performer. I remember the first time we played a gig and four people knew the chorus to one of our dumb little songs,” she adds, self-effacingly trailing off.

It was an early version of My Immortal that caught the attention of Diana Meltzer, head of A&R at Wind-up Records, in 2001. Amy had just enrolled in college to study music theory composition when she got the message that Wind-up were interested in Evanescence - essentially herself and Ben.

“I still wanted to make music, but I was going to study so that maybe one day I could work on film scores as a backup plan,” she says. “We got signed three months in.
I had one semester of school. I literally went from graduating high school to moving to LA and making our album in a year and a half.”

Producer Dave Fortman can remember the first time he heard Amy Lee sing Bring Me To Life in the studio. The guitarist in 1990s rockers Ugly Kid Joe pivoted to production after the 1997 break-up of that band, working with the likes of Superjoint Ritual and Crowbar before signing on to produce the debut album by an unknown band from Arkansas called Evanescence. After listening to their demo, he jumped at the chance to work with them. And then came the moment when Amy began singing in the studio.

“Amy was in the booth and this voice just came out,” Dave tells Hammer. “My engineer, who has worked with some of the biggest names in music bar none, turned to me with his jaw on the floor and said, 'Goddamn! This girl can sing.’ You just forgot where you were, you weren’t working anymore, you were just in awe of her. They were the most talented people in their age I’d ever been in contact with.”

The Evanescence that recorded Fallen was Amy and Ben, plus keyboard player/string arranger/co-songwriter David Hodges (who joined the band in 1999) and an array of session musicians, including future Guns N’ Roses/Foo Fighters drummer Josh Freese. Dave Fortman estimates the album cost around $250,000 to make – a sizeable sum now, but relatively modest at a time when seven-figure budgets weren’t uncommon (Korn’s 2002 album Untouchables reportedly cost $4 million). Some of that budget went on the real-life orchestra that Amy insisted on using for many of the songs – a bold move for a new band, when an electronic recreation would have been cheaper.

“None of us were ever going to back down on that,” says Dave Fortman. “It had to be that way or it wasn’t going to work. We recorded the orchestra in Seattle where they have no union, so it was cheaper. If we’d have known it was going to smash in the way it did, hell yeah, we would have just recorded them in LA!”

Evanescence didn’t get everything their way. Bring Me To Life, which addressed Amy’s feelings of numbness while in an abusive relationship,  was augmented by the inclusion of rapper Paul McCoy in an attempt to appeal to the nu metal market - a decision that went  against the band’s wishes. “I was so scared in the beginning that we were going forward with something  that wasn’t a perfectly honest picture of who we were,” Amy told Metal Hammer earlier this year. “But it didn’t last long. After a few songs, the mainstream was able to hear more than the one song and it was like, ‘OK, they at least sort of get what we are.’”

Advance expectations for Fallen were modest when it was released on March 4, 2003. “If it had gone gold [500,000 copies], we’d have A all been delighted with that,” says Dave Fortman. As it turned out, the album smashed it, selling more than 140,000 copies in its first week of release alone and reaching No.7 in the US Billboard charts. Bring Me To Life was a huge factor in that success. Like My Immortal, the song made its first appearance on the big- budget, Ben Affleck-starring Daredevil movie, which hit cinemas a few months before Fallen came out. 

When it was released as a single in its own right, accompanied by an expensive-looking urban-gothic video that saw a nightdress- clad Amy somnambulantly climbing the side of a tower block, like a cross between a character from an Anne Rice novel and a comic book superhero, Wind-up reps had to beg radio stations to play it (“A chick with piano on a rock station?” was a common response). Those that did air it soon found their phone lines jammed with people who wanted to know what it was that they’d just heard. It entered the US Top 10 and did even better in the UK, where it reached No.1.

Bring Me To Life and subsequent singles Going Under and My Immortal put wind in Fallen’s sails. Those 140,000 sales shot upwards at a vertiginous rate: within a month, it had sold more than a million copies in the US alone. By the middle of 2004, it had reached seven million (in 2022, Fallen was awarded a diamond certificate for US sales of more than 10 million). The speed of the ascent left Amy Lee dazed. “There was just so much going on,” she says, exhaling. “I don’t know if I got to focus on it that hard at the time.” 

The label wanted to get Evanescence out on the road to capitalise on that initial success. A touring band was assembled around Amy and Ben – guitarist John LeCompt, drummer Rocky Gray and bassist Will Boyd were recruited to back them. Their rise as a live band was equally dizzying. The day Fallen was released, Evanescence headlined the 200-capacity Engine Room in Houston, Texas. Three months later, they made their first UK appearance playing the Main Stage at the inaugural Download festival, sandwiched between Stone Sour and Mudvayne. Two weeks after that, they returned to the UK to headline a sold-out show at London’s prestigious Astoria.

Inevitably, given the scale and velocity of Evanescence’s success, it didn’t take long for the backlash to kick in. Amy was the focus of much of the criticism, with the barbs ranging from the petty (one magazine questioned her goth credentials) to the outright misogynistic (she was painted as a diva with absolutely nothing to back it up other than the fact she was a woman). Evanescence themselves were perceived by some of their detractors as nothing more than a cynical marketing experiment; the phrase “Linkin Park with a girl singer” appeared a depressing number of times back then, which diminished the decade or so Amy and Ben had invested in their band and music.

“I felt a lot like people wanted to see me fail, especially in the beginning,” Amy says. “I think it’s partially that they want to see if you’re the real thing, and when you shoot up so fast and you have a lot of success really quickly, I think there’s a little bit of a human nature thing that wants to poke a hole in that. I felt on the defence, I felt misunderstood – I’ve got a badass, bitchy look on my face on the album cover, so obviously I must be some kind of bitch.”

Amy was just 21 when Fallen was released, and the criticism took a toll on her. “It was hard as a young person to feel misunderstood,” she reflects today. Things became even more complicated when Ben left acrimoniously in October 2003, just six months after the release of Fallen, with creative differences cited at the time as the reason for the split (in 2010, he admitted to trying to force the singer out of the band they had founded together).

“I felt frustrated,” says Amy. “I wanted to hide a bit in that initial aftermath. People always wanted to attach me to drama, like Ben leaving the band. All of that was trying to be made to make me look bad, like it’s my fault or, ‘Well now it’s going to suck because she didn’t actually do any of the work, obviously all the men behind her did all the writing and the creation.’ It just made me angry a lot.”

The criticism and fractured personal relationships may have been difficult to deal with, but the impact Evanescence had was undeniable. Fallen landed at a transitional time for metal. By 2003, nu metal was on a downward trajectory creatively and commercially, with scene heavyweights Korn and Limp Bizkit both releasing dud albums in the shape of Take A Look In The Mirror and Results May Vary respectively. The New Wave Of American Heavy Metal was bubbling up, but it didn’t possess the same kind of mainstream crossover potential.

Fallen was different. Nu metal may have been in its DNA, but so was goth and electronic music. It was heavy enough for metal fans but it was also dramatic and heartfelt enough to draw in the emo crowd and pop fans alike. The soaring piano ballad My Immortal, with its narrative of a grieving relative haunted by the spirit of the family member they’re mourning, and Going Under, another song detailing the feelings of hopelessness that come from suffering in an abusive relationship, were unquestionably dark, but Evanescence wrapped them up in ear-worm hooks and gothic allure, while Amy’s presence imbued them with a distinctly feminine spirit that was a world away from nu metal’s over-testosteroned aggro.

The broad-church appeal of Fallen was reflected in the range of musicians who garlanded it with praise. Over the years, it’s been cited as an inspiration by everyone from Lzzy Hale and The Pretty Reckless’s Taylor Momsen to pop star Kelly Clarkson. Björk praised Evanescence and so, more surprisingly, did Lemmy, a man not known for his love of goth-tinged ballads.

“They’re fucking excellent,” said the late Motörhead frontman when asked for his
view of the band. Even more significant – and noticeable – was the devotion Evanescence, and Amy in particular, almost instantly inspired among fans, especially female ones. The look she sported in music videos, magazine photo shoots and TV interviews – goth-style corsets, black and red eye make-up - was taken up by countless rock club kids up and down the country.

But arguably the most lasting impact Fallen has had is musical. It marked a changing of the guard: not just the end of nu metal, but the beginning of the rise of symphonic metal. Bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation released albums before Fallen, making sizable waves in mainland Europe, but Evanescence put a distinctly American spin on it, turbocharging symphonic metal’s rise on the back of Fallen’s success. Even now, Amy’s too modest to acknowledge the influence that Fallen had.

“People are always asking me that question: ‘What is it about that album that resonated with people so much?’” she says. “I don’t know. Some of it’s just out of your control. At that age and that time in my life, I don’t think I would have given myself that credit.”

Dave Fortman is far more forthright on the subject. “Did I notice it?!” he says. “How could you not?! That’s what happens when you become, not just a big band, but an icon. She truly changed things. All those symphonic bands that came in their wake? They’re all Amy’s children.”

Fallen helped turn Evanescence into one of the biggest bands of the 21st century. They beat superstar rapper 50 Cent to the award for Best New Artist at the 2004 Grammy Awards (Bring Me To Life also took the trophy for Best Hard Rock Performance). To date, the record has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide – only Adele, Eminem, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga and Linkin Park released albums that have sold more during that time.

Dave calls Fallen “a life- changing album”. He explains: “It’s more than sales – it inspired an entire generation of young girls to know they had a place in heavy music. To show they didn’t have to ever compromise.” It’s a sentiment Amy shares as she looks back at the shy 21-year-old of 2003.

“It was crazy, it was awesome,” she says. “But there was a lot for me that was going on personally, turmoil and relationships within our band. It was just this wild time where so many things that felt huge were happening at the same time. Did it change the musical landscape? I don’t know. But it inspired somebody for something good, it made them walk back from the edge, feel their self-worth in some way. I think it’s truly a gift and a blessing in my life.”

Originally printed in Metal Hammer #381

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.