Breaking Benjamin’s sixth album ‘Ember’ is a monotonous, predictable and overly-clean disappointment.
Breaking Benjamin, almost 20 years in the making, are not only highly regarded by the millions of metal fans that make up their fanbase but are also one that have remained consistent stylistically, as well as successful, all this time. Benjamin Burnley and co. have shared post-grunge, angst-ridden proclivities with acts such as Disturbed, Shinedown and Godsmack: ensconcing listeners with lyrics of isolationism, phobias, social anxiety, depression, and inner demons over hard rock riffage coalesced with a tuned-down nu-metal tone.
Admittedly, it took Breaking Benjamin until 2006 with the release of Phobia to cement their place within the metal sphere; their debut Saturate was particularly sub-standard that only had a couple of tracks going for it. What made Phobia Breaking Benjamin’s raison d’être was how Burnley projected his feelings about his myriad fears, including his death anxiety and fear of flying, in such a personal manner that the listener was left dumbfounded, after listening to ‘Diary Of Jane’ or ‘Dance With The Devil’ for example, with how Burnley could ever possibly live with life itself.
Since then, Dear Agony (2009) and Dark Before Dawn (2015), while they had a few highlights here and there, did not live up to same level of hegemony that Phobia did. The question is: can their sixth, newly released album Ember do any better? The track ‘Down’, for example, indicates not. This track is one of Breaking Benjamin’s least exciting songs to date, albeit the alluring intro. The chorus is littered with catastrophically clichéd lyrics: “Fight / We’ll fight / And bury our lives / We’ll break these chains / And wash it away / Oh light / Carry me over the ground / Heavy won’t hold me down.” What is Burnley fighting for and whose chains is he breaking? In short, this doesn’t mean anything to the listener at this point as they have heard it a million times before from Breaking Benjamin’s post-grunge colleagues.
Contrariwise, to give credit where it’s due, Breaking Benjamin’s production continues to be solid. The track ‘Torn In Two’ gives credence to this with a main riff dictated by its viscous chug. Shaun Foist’s vibrant drums, especially the bass drums, on the track ‘Tourniquet’ offers more evidence for the tight-knit production. But despite all these encouraging aspects, Ember leaves little to be desired. The song structures are formulaic from beginning to end and Burnley’s vocals are shockingly bland and lifeless. Ember continuously relies upon the supposedly uplifting choruses that supersede the verses where all the predominant heavy guitar riffs transpire. The trouble is, many of the choruses on this album come across as undistinguishable from one another; they are, in hindsight, humdrum rehashes of each other.
The problem isn’t necessarily to do with the instrumentation but more to do with Burnley’s clean vocals which bear little sonic variety in terms of timbre, tonality, or dynamics and, consequently, leads to several monotonous results. His screams on tracks like the opener ‘Feed The Wolf’, which includes the greatest guitar riff on the entire album, and ‘Blood’ and ‘Save Yourself’ jut out hardly any remnants of passion or sensation. The only exception to this criticism is the single ‘Red Cold River.’ Don’t get me wrong, Burnley is no terrible vocalist, because being able to switch between clean and screaming vocals is a hard skill to master without damaging one’s vocal cords in the process. Even still, Burnley’s screams should be bolder and more prominent theoretically, given that he has almost two decades of experience as lead vocalist.
In retrospect, Ember is just a symptom of a wider problem. Post-grunge bands, who have inspired Breaking Benjamin’s aesthetics, have always received merciless scrutiny from critics ever since the late ‘90s – most of the time with good reason. Creed and Puddle Of Mudd, for example, became distant memories a while ago but are now mocked ad nauseum through memes and parodies. Today, some critics will say the genre died years ago thanks to the genre’s over-saturated style with constant interchangeability taking place. If not, its relevance is certainly hanging by a thread.
Coming back to Ember itself, I asked the question if it lived up to the same levels of hegemony as their magnum opus Phobia – not in the slightest. In spite of the clean production and a few mentionable riffs, Ember makes no significant or lasting contribution to Breaking Benjamin’s discography. (4/10) (Harry Beynon)
Listen to Ember by Breaking Benjamin here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Benjamin Burnley, Breaking Benjamin, Ember, Harry Beynon, Hollywood Records, review
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