‘Ember’ album review
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Breaking Benjamin’s new album Ember isn’t the most innovative record they’ve ever released, but long-time fans of the hard rockers will find comfort in their characteristic grungy intensity.
Ember is no magnum opus, nor is it the triumphant return after a six-year hiatus and major lineup change that 2015’s Dark Before Dawn was. Yet it is powerful and emotional, with its heavy songs hitting harder and deeper than before, with its softer sounds attaining a greater poignancy, to create one refined, well-assembled record.
The album has a total run time of 38 minutes and 45 seconds over 12 tracks, including one brief instrumental intro track and a slightly longer outro. Of the 10 remaining songs, most of them delve deeply—thematically and lyrically—into the self-reflective angst that one expects from Breaking Benjamin. However, whereas previous records invoked a sense of gritty resilience in the face of devastation, this one resonates with a more sombre, desolate note. Unfortunately, the message and musical imagery get a little repetitive by the end.
“Feed the Wolf,” the first track after the intro, is a powerful, heavy-hitting start, with a strong riff and a chorus that overlays frontman Ben Burnley’s melodic, clean vocals with raw, forceful growls—a vocal balance that carries throughout the album.
Burnley’s screams are particularly strong in lead single “Red Cold River.” It’s clear that family has become a big deal for Burnley, whose first child was born in 2014, since the music video for this single shows a father searching desperately for his missing daughter. The bandleader’s devotion to familial bonds imbues the track with utmost intensity.
Some of the tracks off Ember sound naggingly familiar to a listener who knows Breaking Benjamin’s prior catalogue. “Tourniquet,” “Psycho,” “Down,” and “Blood” sound almost like direct, derivative, heavier continuations of the band’s two previous albums. “Tourniquet” especially is reminiscent of “Bury Me Alive” from Dark Before Dawn, both sonically and thematically, with the same subject of being smothered beneath an antagonist (whether an inner demon or a toxic lover).
“The Dark of You,” in the middle of the track list of Ember, is a refreshing change of pace as a softer, slower-paced, resonantly melodic tune. The chorus’ mellow, yet intense “Fade away to the wicked world we left” is chillingly moving, yet this song’s balladic quality doesn’t at all detract from the momentum of the album.
One of the strongest tracks is “Torn in Two.” Although its introduction sounds almost identical to “Breaking the Silence” off Dark Before Dawn, “Torn in Two” swiftly makes up for it through verses sung with a touch of cynical acrimony, a syncopated rhythm that begs revisiting on replays, and lyrical harmonizing in the chorus.
“Save Yourself” is another swift, driving track that embodies the record’s grim resignation toward a bitter end. Angry, growl-filled verses jump keys into the unexpectedly energetic, lilting chorus. The track flows smoothly into “Close Your Eyes,” which is similar in quick tempo but one of the most positive tracks on this darker record, with a final promise of “Hold on / just hold on / I will keep you here inside / Just close your eyes.” Comparatively cheery, but it’s an unexceptional ending as a lead-in to the minute-and-a-half-long instrumental finale.
Ember brings a solid sound, but regrettably, nothing from it particularly stands out—on the album itself, or from Breaking Benjamin’s established repertoire, aside from the stepping up of heaviness. However, the slight derivativeness of their songs also makes them infectiously catchy, so repeated re-listens may churn up a deeper appreciation.