January 22, 2020 Breaking Benjamin – Aurora (Album Review)
Roughly two years ago, Breaking Benjamin offered the world a gem called Ember. Now they’re back to reimagine some of those tracks, plus other favorites from their oeuvre, in a (mostly) acoustic format on Aurora. Hollywood Records deliver the haunting magic on Friday, January 24, 2020.
The multi-platinum rockers in Breaking Benjamin are no strangers to the upper echelons of the Rock charts. Formed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1999, their debut album, 2002’s Saturate, kicked off a firestorm of Rock radio hits. Over the course of 16 years and six albums, the band has delivered an impressive string of singles, including “The Diary of Jane,” and the No. 1 singles “So Cold,” “Failure,” “Breath” and “I Will Not Bow.” Understandably, challenges have arisen along their ascent, but Breaking Benjamin are still standing strong.
For 2020, the band—Vocalist/Guitarist Benjamin Burnley, Guitarists Jasen Rauch and Keith Wallen, Bassist Aaron Bruch, and Drummer Shaun Foist—are prepared to gift their fans a collection of semi-acoustic retellings of some of their best and brightest material. In this, Aurora explores the Breaking Benjamin catalogue with new eyes, adding a deeper emotional resonance and thicker layers of melody to each of its 10 exceptional tracks.
Aurora opens to the atmospheric acoustics and electronic strings that introduce “So Cold.” What follows vacillates between this cinematic feel and the electrified stomp of the original, placing an intense focus onto Burnley’s powerful vocals and crafting a chill that ebbs throughout the lyric-centered core. Consider it the best of both worlds: a delicious reimagining of the 2004 favorite but one that respects their original work.
To follow this impressive beginning, they allow a haunting beauty to dance across “Failure,” with the 2015 ballad now featuring the guest vocals of Red’s Michael Barnes. Next, the highlight for many will be the brand new offering “Far Away.” Piano opens the sweeping expanse that features Scooter Ward of Cold dueting with Burnley, their voices working as a perfect complement to one another to craft this soaring epic. Some will stream this song solely because it’s new material, and they should expect a great offering from a talented band—and a wonderful promise of what’s to come from Breaking Benjamin.
But Aurora is hardly over! Now ominous cello begins the somber hope of “Angels Fall,” which benefits wonderfully from the inclusion of strings. The end result is an added intensity that takes it to the next level, highlighting the band’s magnificently emotional musicianship. This flaws flawlessly into arguably the most recognizable track from Ember. Much like the entirety of the collection, “Red Cold River” is reimagined in a semi-acoustic format thick with melodic layers, and now features the distinctive guest vocals of Underøath’s Spencer Chamberlain. Does it stray far from the original? Not necessarily, but it’s a fun inclusion and one that will serve to remind fans how awesome this song is—no matter its format.
Another of Ember’s gems, “Tourniquet,” is dusted with Middle Eastern vibes in this reincarnation, softening its explosive blow and creating something otherworldly from the ashes of the original. Meanwhile, 2006’s “Dance With the Devil” maintains its delicately haunting qualities, though it now features guest vocals from Adam Gontier (Saint Asonia, ex-Three Days Grace).
The stomp of “Never Again” is maintained, though the 2015 track is fleshed out with further layers, adding more emotional resonance. In fact, the same could be said for many of these rebirths, particularly “Torn In Two,” which remains a bass-heavy rocker that develops into soaring choruses with the emotional heft suitable to maintain the original’s powerful presentation.
In the end, they opt to close the collection with a showstopper, the delicate ballad “Dear Agony,” which once again goes thick on emotion. In this form it now features strings that help to drive home the track’s haunting emotions, as well as guest vocals from Lacey Sturm, whose saccharine sweet soprano serves as a brilliant complement to Burnley’s gritty suffering. Together, the pair stand in the spotlight to close out an album that is full of dark beauty and exceptional musicianship.
For what it is, Aurora is well-done and fans are apt to enjoy their time spent with these new arrangements. Nothing is merely copied and pasted into this collection, and obvious time and thought has been spent crafting these tracks. And to be fair, credit has to be given to Breaking Benjamin for not choosing the seemingly obvious (“Medicate,” “Diary of Jane,” etc.), and instead giving preference to a diverse array of songs that truly represent their entire catalogue to date.
If Ember was for those that cherish the heavier, darker side of the band, then Aurora is the more cinematic take on that darkness. Heavy on hope, dense with feeling, Breaking Benjamin deliver something brilliant that carries with it a promise of great things in the future. For this, Cryptic Rock give Aurora 4.5 of 5 stars.