For much of their existence, Breaking Benjamin always seemed as if they were on the verge of breaking up. From 1999 to 2010, a period that saw the Pennsylvania-based post-grunge outfit rack up four Gold and Platinum albums, there was a steady turnover in personnel, and in 2011 lead singer and guitarist Benjamin Burnley sacked the remaining members over a remix dispute.
Three years later, Burnley rebooted the band with four new players (bassist Aaron Bruch and drummer Shaun Foist, along with guitarists Jasen Rauch and Keith Wallen)—and he says this is the lineup he’s always wanted.
“People thought I wanted to run the show and be the primary writer, but that was never the case,” Burnley explains. “If I did most of the writing on our first records, it was because I wasn’t getting a whole lot from other people I was interested in. That’s all changed now. These guys are amazing players, they’re strong vocalists and they can really write. Now I can concentrate more on playing guitar and singing, so it’s a lot more fun.”
Rauch and Wallen made their debuts on Breaking Benjamin’s 2015 album, Dark Before Dawn, but Burnley admits that the two pretty much replicated guitar parts he had already demoed. “That was all I wanted at the time, because we had an established sound and I didn’t want to mess with it,” he says.
On the band’s new disc, Ember, Burnley, who also served as producer, collaborated closely with Rauch and Wallen, and the three divvied up the guitar chores fairly equally. This approach yielded songs that were sonically heavier (“Red River Run,” “Feed the Wolf”) and more technically complex (“Psycho”) than anything the band had ever done before.
“The riffs are crazy, and the guitar sound is huge,” Burnley enthuses. “People think there’s tons of guitars on the tracks, but there really isn’t. For the most part, it’s just four rhythm guitars, and then we have little melody embellishments and leads. When you play the right parts and you space them out well, everything sounds bigger and bolder, so you actually have to do less.”
● GUITARS Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone, ESP LTD Ben Burnley BB-600 Baritone
● AMPS Marshall JCM900 100-watt head, Soldano SLO 100 100-watt head, Marshall 4x12 cabinet
● EFFECTS Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL.