Breaking Benjamin is a American rock band founded by lead singer and guitarist Benjamin Burnley and drummer Jeremy Hummel back in 1999. Besides significant line up changes and the release of a compilation album amid the hiatus, Shallow Bay: The Best of Breaking Benjamin (2011), unauthorized by Burnley, brought about legal trouble within the band resulting in the dismissal of Fink and Klepask. Also in 2013 Szeliga announced his departure in citing creative differences. Amidst all of this Breaking Benjamin musical style and lyrical content have remained consistent throughout. Burnley serves as the primary composer and lead vocalist since the band’s inception. The band is known for its formulaic hard rock tendencies played off of angst-heavy lyrics, swelling choruses, and “crunching” guitars. Also in the United States, Breaking Benjamin have sold over 7 million albums and have yielded three RIAA-certified platinum records, two gold records, and several certified singles, including two multi-platinum, two platinum, and five gold. The band has also produced one number one record on the Billboard 200. That is quite a repertoire to maintain especially in the modern day music environment.
The latest release on offer from Breaking Benjamin is the compilation album entitled, Aurora which was released on January 24, 2020, by Hollywood Records. It consists of a collection of semi-acoustic, and reimagined versions of previously released songs, plus one new song. The lead single “Far Away” features Scooter Ward from Cold, which was released December 6, 2019. The album also includes guest appearances from Lacey Sturm (formerly of Flyleaf), Michael Barnes of Red, Adam Gontier of Saint Asonia, and Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath.
A few bands have reimagined tracks in the past; one of my favourite reimagined albums has been “Still Cyco After All These Years” by punk hardcore/Crossover band Suicidal Tendencies. Basically Suicidal Tendencies modernizing their debut release. Which was superbly executed. So have Benjamin Breaking succeeded in their reimagineering of these particular tracks? First off this semi-acoustic rendition album does not lose the DNA of the band with many of the songs still retaining the heaviness and powerfulness of the original architecture of the songs reimagined. The string orchestration and piano accompaniment adds volume and weight to the release; this gives a greater density to the songs. Perspectively this release comes across as a self pat on the back, playing homage to the history and success of the band, and draws from the fact that Breaking Benjamin actually has a rich lineage of performing acoustic sets on many tours throughout their existence. In that giving the fans a tangible offering of those performances eloquently adopted to a volume of recorded studio renditions.
Ultimately Aurora in essence is a telling of a story of the history of the band in reimagined dialogue. Beautifully scripted and re-purposed, Aurora offers deeper emotional engagement, layered in a more sophisticated package. Songs like the opening; “So Cold” with its atmospheric acoustics accompanied by the strings brings forth a very arty cinematic feel to the electrified original interpretation. In part the song respects the original, but allows for a shift of focus from the originals electric guitar punch to a refocusing on Benjamin Burnley vocal delivery. It’s those transitions within the album from the original work that give the album its strength and creditability that posture it as a refreshing look at the band.
“Failure” is a lovely haunting impression of the original with guest vocals by popular hard rocker’s Red’s Michael Barnes. The cinematic blue print or approach is utilized throughout the album. In a way the choice of songs help foundation the brand new offering from the band, called “Far Away”. Bringing in Scooter Ward of Cold on this song was a good game plan as the duet works beautifully highlighting the vocal strength and the vocal symbiance of Ward and Barnes. Their vocals work well and come across very cohesive. In way this track is clickbait in that this song is the song that is going to get the attention, and shows itself off as an appetizer or promise of things to come.
I love the use of the Cello in the sombre and mood filled, “Angels Fall”, and the song really gathers its strength of moodiness through the driving seat of the strings allowing for an emotional infused delivery that is very satisfying to a music aficionado like me. For myself it not only brings homage to the entirety of the album Ember, but electrifies by concreting itself as a complete stand alone to the original interpretation. One of the songs that bares the closest resemblance to the original is, “Red Cold River” and features the distinctive vocals of another guest to the album who goes by the name Spencer Chamberlain of another popular hard rock group, Underoath. I’d say this song is primarily for the fans of Breaking Benjamin and Underoath.
What I like is when bands are able to take an old song and inject new life into it completely and, “tourniquet” is a wonderful example of that metamorphosis. Adam Gontier of Saint Asonia and ex Three days Grace appears on the haunting “Dance with the Devil”. Over all though the album does retain the essence of the originals not straying to far from the originals and a lot of the time able to retain the energy and power that made a lot of these songs great in the first place.
At the end the best ballad accolade on Aurora goes to “Dear Agony”, very well crafted and shows the music articulation and imagination of the band. Lacey Sturm’s guest vocals shine on here, and plays off nicely against Benjamin Burnley vocals. It’s a great finale to the album and adds a balance of beauty to the album.
Aurora is another accolade to the repertoire of the bands lineage and the acoustic heritage. It gives fans the opportunity of a documentation of their finest moments played out in acoustic remembrance. As you read and listen through the track list it’s important to notice the choice of tracks that were utilized for the release. Why is that? Well they selected mostly some of their heavier music for this album, metamorphisizing them into acoustic renditions whilst their choice of ballads are kept largely similar to the original scores. That said one can digest the fact the band took time and effort to recreate these songs, and the diversity of choice which is a great representation of their history as a band. This album for me was part reflection, part pat on the back, but allows the fans of Breaking Benjamin the opportunity to experience the depth and artistry of the bands musical proficiency. In short Aurora shows as a reminder to fans of the band than no matter the format, Breaking Benjamin is able to deliver. It also offers a promising insight into the future of the band’s creative direction going forward. I hope they use some of what they have done here on future releases as this opens new doors of opportunity in my mind to the creative brilliance of the band.
My favourites: “So Cold”, “Dear Agony”, “Far Away” and “and “Tourniquet”
Written by Donovan de Necker
“Aurora” track listing:
- So Cold
- Failure (featuring Michael Barnes)
- Far Away (featuring Scooter Ward)
- Angels Fall
- Red Cold River (featuring Spencer Chamberlain)
- Dance With The Devil (featuring Adam Gontier)
- Never Again
- Torn In Two
- Dear Agony (featuring Lacey Sturm)
Benjamin Burnley – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jasen Rauch – lead guitar, strings, programming
Keith Wallen – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Aaron Bruch – bass, backing vocals
Shaun Foist – drums, percussion, programming
Guest artists on this album
Michael Barnes – vocals (track 2)
Spencer Chamberlain – vocals (track 5)
Adam Gontier – vocals (track 7)
Lacey Sturm – vocals (track 10)
Scooter Ward – vocals (track 3)
Additional musicians on this album
Carl Barc – additional orchestration
Philip Dizack – trumpet
Dave Eggar – string arrangements, orchestration, viola, and cello
Benjamin Fingland – clarinet and bass clarinet
Jack Kessler – violin and viola
Katie Kresek – violin and viola
Sato Moughalian – flute
Chuck Palmer – string arrangements, orchestration, and conductor/leader
Roger Wagner – string bass
“We Are Not Alone” (2004)
“Dear Agony” (2009)
“Dark Before Dawn” (2015)
Release Date: Jan. 24th 2020
Record Label: Hollywood Records
Video for ‘Dear Agony’
Lyric video for ‘Red – Failure’
Lyric video for ‘So Cold’
Lyric video for ‘Angels Fall’
Lyric video for ‘Tourniquet’