In 2015, Breaking Benjamin re-emerged after a 4-year hiatus due to a mixture of health issues and legal battles with a new team, (Keith Wallen, Jasen Rauch, Shaun Foist and Aaron Brusch) and new energy with the release of Dark Before Dawn. While received positively, the album fell short in the eyes of some fans because the material itself had been quite old; being written almost single-handedly by Ben during the hiatus period, the addition of the new team and its influence was not truly felt. They had simply filled the duty of being hired guns for the production.
Fast forward to 2018.
On April 13th, Breaking Benjamin released their highly-anticipated followup, Ember. A breath of fresh air with a showcase of the new members.
Breaking Benjamin has the uncommon honor to make the 20 year mark (as of next year) for bands still not only relevant but also on the radio, and shows that even if the iron goes cool, they know how to heat it back up again and strike it anew.
The sound of Ember harkens back to Phobia, where a lot more love was put into choruses and the overall composition of much of the material feels fresh.
While passed on with Dear Agony, Ember has continued the intro/outro trend that began with Phobia and resurfaced on Dark Before Dawn.
Lyra brings in the album with piano buildup into a guitar crescendo that leads into Feed The Wolf and it absolutely crushes. For me personally, Breaking Benjamin has in the past had a habit of writing titles to songs that aren’t really expressed through the music. This isn’t the case with Feed The Wolf. Expressed masterfully through the lyrics and dynamics of the song it weaves a story on human nature. “Bury me in this cold light, I feed the wolf and shed my skin.” “fight the animal.”
Coming up next is the lead single off of Ember, Red Cold River. While a strong single to drive home that the band delivers on returning a heavier element to the fold, this song is an example of “we wrote a title to write a title.” Considering the title of the song, you’d be forgiven for having higher expectations with the lyrical content because Red Cold River begs for a deep exploration but sadly the title is the only instance of anything nature or river related. Even an exercise on the power and force of water would have been cool. Zip. Instead we are treated to a smorgasbord of what I call the “Breaking Ben Buzzwords”. “I can’t feel anything at all, this life has left me cold and damned.” Something something something cold and broken. If you picked up a thesaurus and looked for synonyms for sad, you’d probably find every example in this album and the past 2 releases.
Not to worry Benheads, that is the most critical I will be of this album. Truly, this release blows Dark Before Dawn out of the water with the crafting of the songs.
Tourniquet is a staple sound track, playing it safe but not a bore to listen to.
Psycho cranks it up a notch with the opening riff and probably the heaviest riff they’ve ever written, given a monstrous life by Aaron’s slapping and popping on the bass and Shaun’s lightning feet.
Approaching the second half of the album is where it really begins to shine.
The Dark of You is a very unique track because it’s the first song on a main release that Breaking Benjamin has had a guest vocalist, not to be mixed up with the bonus acoustic version of Diary of Jane. Somber, elegant and beautiful it is the lightest and yet, most powerful track on the album. “When all has come to life; we live, we breathe, we die. They call me to the light.” The guest spot is filled by Derek Hough who gained prominence by the band for his powerful cover of Ashes of Eden.
Down has strong elements of suicide in its lyrical content which is a bit of a rough pill to swallow because while much of the time the lyrics are very vague, in this instance there is no mincing of words. “Lie beneath faded and selfish, I fall between jaded and helpless…I long to bleed, nameless and hated..Deceit, suffer in silence alone.”
Torn In Two actually has a small amount of history to dive into before we get to the meat and potatoes. It was originally recorded for Dark Before Dawn and subsequently cut from the release and while it’s anyones guess why it made it to Ember, it did. Many fans clamored for it, but it could also be possible that the band simply said its great but doesn’t ft and they would be right. The chorus of Torn In Two blows the choruses of Dark Before Dawn out of the water and makes this one of the standout tracks. Excellent execution of using vocal layering and utilizing the 3 guitars for textures that really fit the space in the mix without it feeling bloated and overstuffed. “I will fight this war for you.”
Blood follows up with a bouncy energy that Breaking Benjamin is well known for and is an overall fun listen.
Save Yourself contains the normal ingredients of a Breaking Benjamin song but throws in an unexpected key change for the chorus that while it flows, still seems out of place.
Close Your Eyes closes out Ember nicely with big energy and even though the chorus slows things down in the song, it doesn’t lose momentum or the atmosphere it created before it fades into Vega that carries us out with some emotive and atmospheric instrumentals.
All in all this release could stand as one of their best releases to date and while time will tell the numbers from sales, in its first week it reached number one on iTunes charts and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Standout tracks: Feed The Wolf, The Dark of You, Torn In Two, Close Your Eyes
Downsides: Repetitive lyrical content keeps this album from being a grand slam.
(Photo: public domain)