Review Summary: How does autopilot feel, Ben?
Let’s make this clear right away: Breaking Benjamin has never been the most inventive, thought-provoking, or original band. Post-grunge is a genre that is notoriously difficult to innovate in, as there aren’t many ways that you can make standard four-chord progressions and somewhat basic drum patterns sound unique, so that makes complete sense. However, what they had always been, at least prior to 2015’s Dark Before Dawn
despite occasional moments of clarity, was fun.
They had always been notable for their infectious choruses delivered by none other than singer Benjamin Burnley, and the lyrics were often easy to relate to, tackling subjects like relationship issues or depression and anxiety in a way that, while not groundbreaking, felt genuinely authentic. This album sees the band moving in autopilot, which is unfortunate considering how well-done their 2000s material was in comparison to this.
There is a reason for this, and it starts with the band’s first hiatus in 2010; former members Aaron Fink, Mark James, and Chad Szeliga had all left, leaving Burnley to replace each with a new member. What made albums like Phobia
and We Are Not Alone
what they are was in fact the contributions from other members than the lead singer, most notably that of former guitarist Aaron Fink. Burnley had wrote just about every note of this album’s predecessor, which is part of why it was so average; his songwriting capability is hindered when he’s in solo, and shines more when others help him out. Unfortunately, Ember
isn’t the recovery album that many fans had hoped for, and in many ways ends up being worse. To make things worse, the band had promoted it as their “heaviest album yet,” releasing one of their most ferocious singles to date with “Red Cold River” to hype up the fanbase. In their quest to make the album as heavy as they wanted, something had to be sacrificed; in Ember
’s case, it was the infectious choruses that drove past work. Even Dark Before Dawn
managed to retain some semblance of the spark that made Dear Agony
such a great album, albeit watered down.
Lyrically, Burnley still touches on the depressive side of the emotional spectrum, but he relies on vague cliché to keep the songs going. “Save Yourself” has arguably the worst hook in Breaking Benjamin’s catalogue, channeling a seemingly unwavering desire to commit suicide with one of the least engaging melodies he could possibly think of; of course, this track was penned entirely by its deliverer, further proving how dismal his writing can be when not aided by other writers. The other tracks on this are painfully average, even by the standards of radio rock. Musically, this sounds like any other album from Burnley and co. so if you’ve never been a fan, this will not change your mind at all. While it may be easy to laugh at the idea of someone expecting good from Breaking Benjamin
of all bands, I must admit I have a very storied history with this band and their music, so seeing them continue to slip like this is truly unfortunate. Ember
is easily one of 2018’s greatest disappointments. It seems as if this metaphorical ember
is slowly burning out. Breaking Benjamin is now on autopilot, as is evident by the lackluster hooks and instrumentation that hasn’t changed a lick since 2009.