Understanding Bring Me To Life

Understanding Bring Me To Life


hey, welcome to 12tone! so, a weird thing
happened last week: I turned 30. normally I don’t care much about my birthday,
but this one’s a pretty big milestone, and it’s kinda got me reminiscing. it was literally half my life ago now, in
2004, that I started high school, and for those of you who weren’t there, let me tell
you, there’s no song that better captures the sound of starting high school in 2004
than Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life. maybe it’s just the crowd I was hanging out
with, but in my experience, that song was everywhere, so if you’ll indulge me on this
trip back to a time when goth metal topped the charts, I want to know why. let’s take it apart. (tick, tick, tick, tick, tock) one of the main reasons I wanted to look at
this song is that it exemplifies a trend we see a lot in the popular music of the last
few decades: from a strictly harmonic perspective, it’s pretty straightforward, instead generating
its momentum through other tools like orchestration and arranging. like, if we look at the intro (bang) we’ve
got the I chord and the IV chord, which is an incredibly common vamp that I’ve covered
countless times already. to quickly recap, its main deal is that it
creates motion and instability without really giving you any clear points of resolution. I should take a second to note here that,
in the second bar, the piano part doesn’t really do much to tell us we’ve changed chords:
the melody on top is exactly the same, the bass note doesn’t move, the only thing that
happens is the B in this middle voice moves up to a C. in fact, if we just look at the
piano part, it’d probably make more sense to call this chord C major, but fortunately
the strings are holding an A throughout the bar to help fill out the harmony. still, some transcriptions call this a C chord,
and that’s gonna come up again later so keep it in mind. but that’s just the harmony: if we broaden
our view a bit, this section has a lot more to tell us. like, let’s talk about that piano melody.
it’s our first introduction to what the piece is about: we start on the 5th of the key,
which tends to want to go back to the root, then we tentatively walk up to the b6, jump
up to that root we were trying to get to, and then fall back down to the 5th again to
end the phrase. this sets up a theme I think runs throughout
the song both lyrically and musically: striving for a happy ending you don’t really believe
exists. we took a wild leap for resolution and wound
up right back where we started. it’s also doing something interesting rhythmically.
if I get rid of this A here (bang) you can hear how the melody doesn’t seem to be playing
in the same time as the rest of the piece. the left hand is clearly outlining an alternating
pattern of two 8th notes (bang) but the melody seems to be using groups of three 8th notes
instead. it even crosses the barline, taking all 16
8th notes in this two-bar section and splitting them up into 5 groups of 3, with an extra
little bonus note at the end to line it back up with the underlying rhythm. this gives the melody an ethereal, disconnected
feel, where it doesn’t quite seem like it belongs with the rest of the piece. and finally, let’s look at the instruments:
we’ve got piano, and we’ve got a light string section. that’s a super classical sounding pair, more
reminiscent of a Mozart concerto than a rock song, and when Amy Lee starts singing over
it, her light mezzo-soprano delivery helps to really bring that together. as the verse goes we get a bit of electronic
percussion, which tells us this isn’t your normal symphony piece, but for the most part
that’s the picture we’re being painted until halfway through, this happens: (bang) this
is actually the exact same chords as before, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who
didn’t feel a change there. we’ve gone from the classical pairing of piano
and strings to heavily distorted guitar and an electric bass played with what I’m pretty
sure is a pick. where the first half was light and open, this is aggressive: the band is
effectively shouting at us, but if you’re just looking at the harmony, you wouldn’t
notice that anything changed. in fact, the chords are so similar that once
again it’s not super clear whether this is A minor or C major: the bass keeps playing
E throughout, and the guitar just takes the power chord from the previous bar, with its
E and B, and lifts the top note up to a C like the piano did. there’s still strings here but they’re low
and quiet, so you could probably call it a C chord this time, but I think given that
we’ve already gotten used to the I-IV vamp in the previous section, it’s pretty easy
to hear this as a continuation of that, even without the root. in fact, this section is
pretty much a direct translation of the left-hand piano part onto a guitar-bass combo, so viewing
it as a different chord feels like it’s missing the point. and while we’re here, let’s talk about the
rhythm: (bang) that’s two 16th notes, then a 16th note rest, then the pattern repeats,
which means we have 16 of a thing and we’re dividing it into groups of three and hey wait
why does that sound familiar? yeah, this is the same rhythmic idea as the
intro melody, just using smaller notes. moving these sorts of ideas around between
different instruments helps make the song feel cohesive even though the orchestration
keeps changing. they do do a bit more with it, of course:
it’s still a 2-bar phrase, so shifting to 16th notes gives you more space to play around
in, but the basic framework is still that groups-of-3 idea. from there, we get what’s called a rhythm
stop, where the band stops playing for a moment. this is another arranging trick: we want the
chorus to feel explosive, but the verse is already pretty powerful and there’s only so
much more we can add. I mean, sure, we could keep stacking new instruments
and parts on top of each other, but that gets overwhelming so it’s easier to just pause
for a second, let the energy die, and then come crashing back in with the chorus. they even emphasize that rhythmically: the
pause only lasts 2 beats instead of a full bar, so the chorus catches you off guard,
starting before you were ready. but they still need to ramp things up a little,
so let’s look at how they do that. (bang) first things first, chords. we’ve got
I minor, bIII, bVII, and I minor. starting and ending on the I chord helps make
each statement of the progression feel self-contained, and it reminds us of our minor tonality. the bIII is a difficult chord to nail down
functionally, but here I think it’s mostly serving as a continuation of the I chord:
it shares two notes in common, and since the melody and lyrics repeat here, it feels like
it’s kinda doing the same thing, it’s just the second “wake me up inside” is a bit more
hopeful. then we drop to bVII, setting up the return
to I in what’s called a backdoor resolution, which is the strongest resolution you can
get in natural minor. this re-establishes us in minor, but it’s
interesting to note that in between these two I chords bookending the progression, the
rest of the harmony is exclusively major. using major chords in a minor context is a
great way to give your sad song a bit of hope, again hinting at the happy ending our narrator
is reaching for. turning back to instrumentation, we see the
high strings are back, blending the symphonic elements from the intro with the metal sound
of the verse, but more importantly, we’ve got a whole new instrument: a second vocalist. here’s the thing, though: this wasn’t supposed
to happen. when the band wrote the song, they intended
for Amy Lee to sing it all herself, but according to Lee, the label was concerned that a clean,
female voice in a metal context would confuse audiences, so they insisted the song include
a male vocalist as well, which led to the addition of Paul McCoy from the band 12 Stones. Lee has publicly expressed frustration about
this, and on the band’s 2017 album Synthesis, they released a new version of the song without
McCoy. they also replaced the distorted guitars with
more orchestral instruments, and listening to both pieces provides a great example of
how a different arrangement can fundamentally change a piece of music. I’ll put a link in the description if you
want to check it out. but in the original version, McCoy serves
an important role: his gritty delivery provides a voice for the metal side of the arrangement. Lee’s vocals are beautiful, floating above
the distortion and carrying a sense of grace and poise, but McCoy’s rough tone is what
you’d expect over those instruments, so while Lee sits on top of the band, McCoy’s right
down in it. to be clear, neither of those is better or
worse: it’s just that having both gives us a cool juxtaposition to help tie the two sides
of this song together. anyway from there we get a brief transition
(bang) which is basically just the guitar from the verse but shortened so the phrase
only takes one bar, making something that’s technically a new piece of music but still
very recognizable. more important is that the rest of the band
drops out which, much like the rhythm stop, serves to dramatically reset the energy levels
so we can go back into the verse again. here, the arrangement is pretty similar. we get some additional background vocals,
which I believe are also performed by Lee, but by and large a lot of what I said the
first time still applies. however, this time, the rhythm stop is a full
4 beats. why? well, consider what the 2-beat pause accomplished
the first time: it was surprising, because we were expecting 4. but now we’ve heard the 2-beat one already,
so we’re expecting that, and switching back to 4 is the surprising option. it makes it feel like the chorus is taking
forever to arrive, even though it’s actually more on time than the first one was. the chorus is also roughly the same, and then
we wind up in the interlude: (bang) in terms of chords, we have a big walk up from C to
D to E minor. walk-ups tend to sound bold and triumphant,
and given that this is the “bring me to life” section, I think that’s exactly what’s happening
here. this is the song at its most hopeful. that’s also emphasized by the arrangement,
with the guitar and bass accenting the chord changes but leaving long gaps in between for
the strings to shine through, bringing us back to that classical feel without losing
the metal edge. that space doesn’t last forever, though: when
we get to the E minor, they switch back to the rhythm from the verse while McCoy whispers
that there’s nothing inside, giving the hopeful progression a more ominous tinge. that comes to a head the second time through,
where the progression ends with this: (bang) another walk-up, but this time things are
different. you may have noticed we skipped a note: instead
of going 1-2-3-4, we go 1-2-3-5. that’s because we’re heading into the bridge,
which starts on the IV chord, so overshooting it means our big, hopeful, triumphant walk-up
ends with a fall. things are not looking up here. speaking of which, let’s look at the bridge:
(bang) again, we start on the IV chord, which is a pretty common way to start a bridge:
it’s recognizable within the key, but its general instability quickly establishes that
this section is gonna be something different from what you’ve heard before. from there, we go back to the I chord, then
to bVII, then take a backdoor resolution back to I, after which we do the same walk-up again
to reset. pretty straightforward, except no one seems
to have told the bass player. instead of following this progression, the
bass line just walks down a step at a time, from A to G to F# to E. so… why? well, let’s look at these notes. A and E are the roots of their respective
chords, so no problem there. the G and F#, on the other hand, are the 3rds
of the their chords, putting the harmony in what’s called an inversion, where the lowest
note being played isn’t actually the root. this complicates the sound, making it a little
less stable so that when we return to the I here, it doesn’t quite feel like home. it also allows for smoother voice-leading:
considering we got here via walk-up, it feels really poetic to build the section on a walk
back down. this part’s especially interesting to me,
though, ’cause inversions are pretty rare in modern popular music. sometimes the bass will be playing some sort
of riff which momentarily puts it on another note, but by and large modern bass parts tend
to pretty heavily emphasize the root of the chord. classical music, on the other hand, loves
inversions. like, loves them. huge swaths of classical theory are dedicated
to inversions, which means what we have here is a classical composition technique being
applied to the metal part of the orchestration. that’s pretty cool. continuing our trend of playing the same thing
twice but ending differently the second time, the bridge ends on a bar of B7sus4. this threw
me for a second. ending on a B chord makes a lot of sense:
it’s the V, which points back to I, so it sets us up to leave the bridge by telling
us what’s coming next. but the thing is, the way it does that is
via what’s called the leading tone, which is the 3rd of the chord, which really wants
to resolve up a half-step to the root of the key. however, in a sus4 chord, the 3rd has been
replaced by the 4th, a half-step above it, which means this chord is trying to set up
a new resolution, but the most important part has already been resolved which, when you
put it like that, feels pretty fitting. anyway, that takes us into the rap breakdown,
which (bang) wait, stop. hold on. isn’t that the verse? yeah, it totally is. this whole section is just another verse. I don’t know, maybe it’s just ’cause I first
heard this song way before I learned anything about music, but honestly, I never noticed
that until I actually sat down to analyze it. I always assumed this was a new section and,
in my defense, it really sounds like one: not only do we hear McCoy’s vocals for the
first time in a verse context, but Lee’s delivery shifts too, becoming faster, punchier, and
more rhythmic to match McCoy’s. it’s such a stark contrast from the soft, gentle vocals
of the previous verses that I’m not even sure it’s wrong to call this a new section. it feels fundamentally different, all thanks
to some vocal arranging. that leads into a chorus, and then another
interlude, except this time, instead of backing off to let the strings take the lead, the
bass starts playing a bunch of fills in the gaps between chord transitions, cranking the
energy up as high as it goes before suddenly dropping out, leaving the piano and strings
to play us out just like they played us in. that’s basically it, but before you go, I
have some somewhat frustrating news: while working on this video, my computer died. like, turned into a brick. I was able to get this done with some help
from my family, but I’ve had to order a new computer, and that would’ve been a lot harder
to do without the support of my patrons on Patreon, so I wanted to take a second to say
thanks to everyone whose pledges help make this channel possible. I couldn’t have done this for so long without
you, and when I get hit with a crisis like this, it means a lot to me to know that I
can count on y’all. so thanks, seriously, I really appreciate
it. and hey, thanks for watching! as always, this
song was chosen by my patrons on Patreon: the poll to pick the next one goes up over
there next week! you can also join our mailing list to find out about new episodes, like,
share, comment, subscribe, and above all, keep on rockin’.

100 thoughts on “Understanding Bring Me To Life”

  1. My laptop bricked a few months ago after working reliably for five years (specifically, the motherboard failed, which, yeah, ouch), so I feel your pain. Glad things worked out for you.

  2. Yknow I'm glad I took ap theory in hs (I'm not continuing music in academia, I'm pursuing electrical engineering) because the bassline thing has impacted my composition because inversions sometimes just sound better, so I've decided to forgo root notes as a method and just play a bassline with a pool of chord tones that sounds good with everything else and inversions are totally welcome

    I write metal stuff and all the other metalheads should take note of this, a 3rd in the bass can be a more effective and less jarring way to add chord quality to a progression than doing it in the guitars because bass isn't as distorted

  3. I turn 30 on Sunday! Happy birthday to you.
    I've been reminiscing too. Co-incidence? I think not.
    It took me until 2016 for this song to cross my radar. I'm British. Co-incidence?

  4. Would be interested in analyzing anything my Les Claypool? He has such a unique sound I would love to see whats going on underneath his crazy bass work. (Also anything off Infest the Rats Nest by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard)

  5. I've always found the classical/heavy metal/rap juxtapositions of this song fascinating. As someone who grew up immersed in the pop music of the 80s and also singing in choirs I've always loved the idea of melding those two worlds. Some less successful meldings: Amadeus, A Fifth of Beethoven (okay, it's certainly more disco than metal… maybe that's the problem). Anyway, thanks for this take on what I think will become a classic.

  6. Just noticed:
    12 (s)tones
    Am I the only one who got the file that said the song was from Linking park? The internet was a weird place back then.

  7. Happy Birthday!
    I understand only about half of the music theory (mostly because I've had no music training apart from some violin classes ages ago) but I surely get it better because of your clear explanations and illustrations
    So yeah, awesome work, I hope you keep at it ^-^

  8. Love that you are analyzing this ❤️Amy Lee was my hero growing up and I so relate to your struggle with failing computers, hope you get set up sooner than later. I really enjoyed this video 🙂

  9. Oh god, I remember Freshman Year 2004. My 30th is in a few days, and yeah I remember this song was everywhere. Great as always.

  10. Worth pointing out the sound symbolism of that first guitar/bass intro sounding like an alarm clock. In contrast with the dreamlike symphonic section that preceded it, it reinforces the lyrics about struggling to wake up.

  11. I hate to side with The Suits, but the producers were correct. Based on the 2002 Demo version (here: https://youtu.be/yMlS8b6Jnsc) the song would have been a hit with just Amy's vocals, but it wouldn't have been "26 weeks near #1" hit.
    The 'original' demo version has only the two verses and a (solid) guitar solo.
    The addition of the duet voice gives a source of tension and progression, and the final verse ties every thing together – especially on the album headed into the next song.

    I would have loved to heard you talk about the music theory behind duets – Maybe, as the commentor above said – you could do Shakespeare's Sister "Stay" or another duet.

  12. I graduated high school in 04, I'm right there with you about nu metal and this song in particular giving me the feels. Bring Me To Life was mine and my first real girlfriend's "our song" and thanks to your analysis I can see the correlation to our ill fated relationship haha. Thank you, your content is always solid

  13. Dear 12tone, if you run out of things upon which to cast your comprehensive gaze, please consider "AKP (ALL KNEW PROGRAM) – THE P.I.T." https://youtu.be/Wqsf3WM1BDw (I have no idea where it came from, who the musicians are but it touched me just as deeply as Evanescence did "back in the day".) Thank you for the reviews, (even if much of it goes way over my head.)

  14. On that rhythm stop, here's an arranging trick I heard not too long ago: to make a section feel big, don't make it bigger, make the section before it smaller.

  15. In the bridge, the bass walks down to an E under the Bm7 chord to set up a substitute V/iv situation, moving back to the Am. At the end of the bridge, the bass moves to the B instead under the Bsus4 to set up a V/i. This is how bass controls so much harmony so effectively.

  16. Welcome to the " DIRTY 30 CLUB " buddy, btw speaking of around that 2004 Period, another song i remember was ( GET DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS – by DISTURBED ) some food for thought!…

  17. I looooved this album when it first came out! I was in no way a goth, but I loved the contrast between the delicate classical sound and the heavy metal sound. "Juxtaposition" is a good way of putting it.

  18. happy birthday and thanks for the music theory vids. thanks to you I know about things like "chormatic mediants, line cliches, functional harmony". As a mathematician/computer programmer who never studied music formally (but sang in choir and plays guitar) I really appreciate the perspective.

  19. After months of watching this channel I just realized yo are left handed!

    Great video! Love this song, and now that I know it exists, I also love the Synthesis version!

  20. The male vocal wasn't supposed to be there? That explains everything…
    I shan't be too harsh on McCoy, mind; sounds like one of those "a job's a job, innit" kind of situations.

    I wonder if he only got minimum wage for his part?

    I mean, he certainly put in a minimum wage performance… 😁

  21. 10/10 for the Amy doodles. Has she seen this? She needs to see this. Where are the Brazilian fans? Make it happen.

  22. I have an (obnoxious) objection: pls don't call it "goth(ic)", it sounds, feels (and looks) nothing like goth music and it's prolly not even trying to be it

  23. May your next trip around the sun be a merry one 12Tone. Thanks for keeping me entertained whilst expanding my knowledge. I'm grateful.

  24. I find it interesting that you mention classical composition techniques as being a novelty in metal, when theyre really only novel in POP metal. Metal has traditionally been created by musicians with extensive classical training, and that training tends to bleed through. I think Robert Walser was one of the first to write about this in the 90s, so if you want to read up on it, that would be where Id start. (And hes always worth a read anyway, as hes an engaging author.)

    But a great video as always! Bring Me To Life was such an important aspect of being a teen in the early 00s, and has had a little too much rug-sweeping, at the risk of contagion from our cringey teen selves. But it is a great song and Im happy to see it get the 12tone treatment. 🙂

  25. Awesome analysis, but those midi guitars are really grating. Have you thought about using Guitar Pro? The guitar sounds are way more lifelike, and you can get the palm mute and pinch harmonic sounds that this video really needed.

    Also, personal opinion: While Amy Lee certainly is very talented, I think her work suffers without Ben Moody's input.

  26. I think his timing for the guitar on some of the verse sections is wrong? I hear it with a sixteenth note rest at the beginning

  27. I was way past my youth when this came out. I recognized it immediately as quality music and for the elements it had in common with some of my favorite music from earlier times. Not in as deeply analytical a way as this here (of course!) but just, how it all worked together resonated with me.

    It's always nice to hear someone explain this stuff more analytically, even though I don't understand most of it. Maybe because I don't understand most of it. It's always fun to wade in way over my head here.

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