Release Date: 13 April 2018
Label: Hollywood Records
Genre: Hard Rock
2015 brought us Breaking Benjamin’s fifth studio album ‘Dark Before Dawn’ after a long six-year wait. Patience clearly is a virtue as it received much public and critical acclaim, debuting at no.1 on the Billboard rock charts. The follow-up ‘Ember’ was released in April of this year and displays both their heavy and their melodic side “to the “furthest degree,” according to frontman Benjamin Burnley. Sounds similar to ‘Ember’ so have Breaking Benjamin simply regurgitated old material or put a fresh spin on their post-grunge sound?
“Lyra,” is a 30-second intro, a piano-driven instrumental which is hauntingly beautiful, an instant hook which draws you before smacking you in the mouth with the opening riff from ‘Feed The Wolf’. It’s heavier than usual start for BB but the themes are classic Breaking Benjamin: anger, frustration and despair. Burnley promised us both heavy and melody and we get treated to some of their heaviest work in the first half of the album with tracks like ‘Feed the Wolf’ and ‘Red Cold River’. It isn’t until the halfway mark that we get to see (or hear?!) this melody with ‘The Dark of You’. The melody is in part due to rare special guest Derek Hough, the professional dancer, who provides a fresh contrast to Burnley’s grittier and pained vocals. ‘The Dark of You’ is probably the best track on the album. It provides a rare innovative moment from the album (the other one being the guitar solo on ‘Psycho’) and offers a fresh perspective on the classic Breaking Benjamin sound. It utilises a variety of tools such as sound effects, electronics and twinkly piano notes which draws you in and engages you like no other.
Sadly, the engagement is the brief as they soon revert back to every musical and lyrical motif they’ve done before. The second half is less significantly less engaging than the first half as it feels like a repeat with the possible exception of ‘Close your eyes’ which changed it’s the pace to good effect with a melodic chorus. Sadly it wasn’t enough to rescue the second half and even the outro ‘Vega’ was significantly less engaging than the intro and I struggled to see what it added.
Ember is unmistakably Breaking Benjamin. No bad thing, except, it can seem slightly over-familiar. The riffs, at times, can be difficult to tell apart from one song to another and its music is in danger of becoming a parody of itself, but Burnley’s lyric writing is their saving grace. The themes were clear, a set of stories of the trials of humanity. For example, “Torn in Two” is the story of a young girl’s murder. It focuses on the pain of her father’s. Not written from direct personal experience, but Burnley can empathize, as a father himself.
Ember is their darkest project yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, with the adversity they’ve faced over the last few years with legal battles and health issues. They have a tried and tested method and there’s no shame in sticking with what works. Ember is a solid album which most Breaking Benjamin fans are sure to enjoy. It may be ‘middle of the road’ rock but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. It’s relatable and will connect to the listeners. It’s heavier and has more depth than ever before. Though, they’ve seen to fallen flat on the promise of exploring the melodic. After being promised, it will explore both sides to ‘the furthest degree’ ‘Ember’ seems more of a heavy album with occasional melodic components which only peaks once on ‘The Dark of You’. There are some nice changes of pace throughout the album but only time will tell whether it’s enough to prevent Breaking Benjamin from becoming increasingly stale, something that I personally would hate to see as a band I’ve grown up with and connected with significantly in my darkest moments.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Feed the Wolf’ and ‘The Dark of You’.’