Review Summary: "If it's not broke, don't fix it" taken to the nth degree.
Who can say they never saw this coming. It’s difficult trying not to sound like you’re beating on a dead horse when half of the album being promoted sounds as prosaic as 2015’s anticlimactic return. The placid ignorance of Ember
is about the only impressive aspect to be found here, and it comes as no surprise. When asked about the sound for Breaking Benjamin 2.0’s second effort, Ben responded that Ember
would be the band’s heaviest
album to date. This statement highlights what you’re up against as a listener: a frontman cocksure his band is moving forward, when the reality of the matter is they’re as inert of moving forward with this offering as they were with Dark Before Dawn
. The thing is, there’s no room for excuses this time; Dark Before Dawn
was made during a transitional state where Ben shed his original members for a completely fresh cast, and even with baited excitement for the leap in stylistic evolution that never happened, Dark Before Dawn
had its reasons for being written almost entirely without its new members.
Here, no such privilege is given.
is the record where it all matters, and yet, after rotating this thing the world over, the LP can only boisterously affirm one thing: creative bankruptcy. Of course, it’s a shady area to be in as it will, yet again, please fans of the band. But why do I feel like the only cynical asshole in the room？ The short answer is a discontent which stems from this “new and improved” line-up of musicians who rarely show an iota of innovation. Let’s get it out of the way now: “The Dark of You” is the most innovation this new Breaking Benjamin has displayed in its 3 years of life. It takes all the elements and signature tropes of the past and utilises them with such a fresh perspective it’s depressing thinking about what could have been: a spacey ethereal undertone of muffled echoing drums, cricket-y electronics and twinkly piano notes are used as the basis for this really engaging sound; the cathartic simple guitar chord rings and Ben’s excellent display of melody creation make as the most exciting sound to be heard from this version of the band, while Ben’s lyrics suppress the hideously overused motifs of the past. The result is a song design I wish had been explored more here.
And yet it’s one you’ll hear only once. For the remainder of Ember
you’ll be getting a sound that uses the same bloated and muddy production as Dark Before Dawn
and builds the structure of riffs around the Dear Agony
template, to the point where the crutch is on the verge of breaking. Now to the Breaking Benjamin enthusiast, or the music cynic who looks at the simple nature of the genre in question, they tend to have the notion they’re doing what they’ve always done and were never that evolutionary to begin with. But I would counter quite the opposite: the original four albums all have their own distinct aesthetic and character. Sure, the mid-tempo grinding riff has always been a staple of the band’s sound, but there is variation to be found within those records. A sound that heard them trying to find their own niche with each effort -- and where they eventually found the apogee of their creative peak with Dear Agony
. With Dark Before Dawn
they feel and sound so familiar you could mix all the songs up and you wouldn’t be able to tell which album they came from.
tries really hard to be aggressive and different, it does, but the execution comes from a narrow frame of mind. Ben’s buttery croons at the start of “Red Cold River” are so obvious from the beginning you know it’s going to lead into a heavy chorus with Burley’s suppressed screams. It’s an exercise that had me expecting the pre-set motion to do its thing than for me to ever expect a surprise twist or turn, and unfortunately, I was right here more than I care to admit. Like the album before it, this LP plays things far too safe, and though there are ideas here which could have shattered the monotony, they feel like an afterthought or Ben got cold feet during the creative process. The vocal work here does lean on belligerence, but again, it’s an execution made within the confinements of its small box of tricks, it never feels hostile and eager to chase mainstream goers away; it’s still just as radio-friendly as any one of their songs previous and doesn’t bring the fresh injection needed. The biggest problems amount to the tired riffing and structuring of songs though; tracks feel so copy and paste it’s difficult to differentiate any character from a lot of the work here. “Tourniquet” is the rare exception that manages to bind infectious melody with heavy groove, while breaking away from a sound that isn’t completely exhausted, but next to that and “Blood”, the remainder of tracks contain contrived aggression and really flat melodic work.
Exhausted really is the best way to describe the band at this point. The note and rhythm choices here simply make it a colossal slog to get through; three guitarists are in the band now and it never feels as such; songs never break away from the blueprint made 9 years ago; and recycled riffs and melodies make the record feel aged beyond its years. Like its predecessor, it will be enjoyed by radio-rock lovers and fans alike, but for me it’s a continuation on from a sound that’s been beaten to death. If Ember
had made more leaps of faith like it did with “The Dark of You” it could have really pushed the boat out there. The reality is, they’ve opted for more of the same, and while enjoyable a couple of times, quickly shows cracks thereafter.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A