Photo Credit: Wombat Fire
Depending on what part of the world you’re in, burping at the conclusion of a meal is either rude, or an indication that you enjoyed yourself but now you’re done. In music, the equivalent of a burp might be when artists re-record their own material. “Rude” might be an overstatement, but it’s largely unnecessary, and it’s quite possibly an indication that they’re finished, whether they realize it or not.
Breaking Benjamin has just released Aurora, a collection of nine songs from their previous albums re-recorded, plus the token all-new track (“Far Away”). When bands “re-imagine” their own material, it’s usually either to strip it down (i.e. acoustic versions) or, contrastively, dress it up (by using, say, a full orchestra). In the case of Aurora, however, it’s neither, as a back-to-back listen of both versions of every song reveals notable differences, but at best only slight (and virtually none in arrangement or tempo).
With lead singer and guitarist Benjamin Burnley being the only member who’s been present for the entire eighteen-year run of the band, we might assume that the purpose of Aurora was to re-create new versions of older songs which feature the current line-up (a practice that artists like Deep Purple and Chicago have previously done). However, two-thirds of these re-done tracks were originally, in fact, created with the very same current roster (drummer Shaun Ford, bassist Aaron Bruch and guitarists Keith Wallen and Jason Rauch in addition to Burnley).
So, to paraphrase Led Zeppelin, the songs do remain the same, or at least very similar, as the post-grunge, slow-ish tunes of despair with a sliver of optimism that they were on the original versions. Even the aforementioned all-new cut “Far Away” is not far away from the sound and approach that the band has always been known for.
It’s not until the very last cut, “Dear Agony” (originally the title track from their 2009 release) that an older song truly experiences new life, as former Flyleaf lead singer Lacey Sturm is brought in to re-purpose the tune as a duet. The second – in this case female – voice transforms the song into an unlikely anthem of inspiration, as either one’s lover or conscious (possibly the same? It happens) informs the song’s original protagonist that there’s hope to believe in.
There might not be as much hope for Aurora, however, as anything particularly significant. Breaking Benjamin has always been a competent enough band within their own genre, but has there truly been enough depth or complexity to their songs to justify a collection of variations that are mostly marginal at best? This record does little to suggest that. “Torn in Two” is an appropriate inclusion if only because the title perfectly describes what will no doubt be the reaction of the fans: some might find it interesting, while others might wonder why the same time and resources weren’t applied to creating new music or putting on live shows. Accordingly, nobody looking to be introduced to Breaking Benjamin for the first time is going to mistake Aurora for any kind of formidable starting point. If this was, in fact, a burp, someone really needs to say “excuse me.”