In a myriad of rock bands and the continued revolution of what passes and what does not pass as rock these days, it can bring on quiet a search sometimes for bands that have a distinctive sound that does not ride off the back bone of the cliché’s of rock. Does Breaking Benjamin manage that? Do they harbour a distinctive sound that is not locked down by cliché’ or tainted by commercial success?
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvanian American rock band, Breaking Benjamin has been around since 1999, founded by lead singer and guitarist Benjamin Burnley and drummer Jeremy Hummel. The band has not been without controversy, and now days what does not make a good rock story without a sprinkle or dash of controversy. After all rock music has been the bread and butter for controversy since its inception. “The release of a compilation album amid the hiatus (Breaking Benjamin entered an extended hiatus in early 2010 due to Burnley’s recurring illnesses.), 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 Klepaski. Szeliga later announced his departure in 2013 citing creative differences.” – Wikipedia.
Now being in a band myself some of the characteristics of a band, or sound of a band comes from the individual members bringing their influence to the band, and often as members change, so can the sound or direction of the band. Despite those significant line-up changes that have occurred within the band they have somehow managed to maintain the lyrical content and musical style throughout their career, maintaining a consistent lineage of their sound. That has been largely due to the fact that Burnley is the primary song writer.
Now it has been noted that Breaking Benjamin play a formulaic hard rock, in other words those expected angsty-heavy lyrics, those large choruses, and genre defining ‘crunchy’ guitar licks. But does following formula define you as mediocre or kept in the box of the genre?
Well one can say what you want but one can hardly dispute hard facts, and the fact that the band has sold over 7 million units in the United States alone, which has yielded two RIAA-certified platinum records, one gold record, one gold single, and one number one record on the Billboard 200 already paints a picture of the bands creditability and validation in the rock industry.
Well after 4 albums down and a 5 year hiatus we are presented with the album, ‘Dark before Dawn’ a 12 track album with an entirely new line-up. “the album took shape towards the end of the hiatus and was mostly written before the new line-up “even played a single note together.” The recording process took place afterwards at both a personal studio of Burnley’s and at the same studio Phobia (2006) was recorded, with all of the band members performing their respective instruments, including background vocals performed by guitarist Keith Wallen and bassist Aaron Bruch, making the record their first to feature vocals other than Burnley’s.” – Wikipedia.
Largely the album has been met with critical and commercial success, seeing the band maintaining its foundational sound that fans and critics have come to know and enjoy. To a large degree for me this is a good thing, as this often keeps the old fans, yet still open to new fans. Keeping your foundational roots and being consistent within the musical growth of the band more than not lends itself to a consistent audience, which like Breaking Benjamin can translate into a successful career without having to re-invent themselves every time the line up changes.
So let’s cut the fat and get down to the album. ‘Dark before Dawn’, Breaking Benjamin’s fifth release, is in many ways a salute to the late 90’s/ early 2000 post grunge/hard rock scene, yet keeping it all fresh, and still retaining the distinguishable sound that Breaking Benjamin have made their name strong on.
‘Dark before Dawn’ is not ground breaking for the band and for fans who were expecting more, or possibly a new direction or sound the album keeps within its sphere of familiarity. It would be out of place to say the album as a whole is not as strong or as rich as some of their previous material.
I personally don’t feel their main single; ‘Failure’ is the strongest representation for the album, whether because it breeds familiarity or because it feels incomplete to me. It’s a song that might bring smiles to the current fan nation of Breaking Benjamin, but whether as an anchor song for the album it’s strong enough to win new fans, in my mind that’s debatable. However a song like ‘Ashes of Eden’ with its moody emotional atmospheric sound puts this as a much stronger contender, and features for me as one of the more stronger tracks on this release. Also one needs to make mention that vocally Burnley delivers one of his strongest performances on this track, and in many ways melts down some of the criticism towards the album, like the fact that there might be not enough defined uniqueness between the songs, or the fact that perhaps the band has camped around familiarity too much and yet in the same breath it’s that familiarity that’s going to sell records. A song like ‘Ashes of Eden’ is unique enough to build into and be part of the strength of the album.
One of the more heavier moments on the album comes in the form of a songs like, “Bury Me Alive”, or “Breaking the Silence” but it is also bumpy territory for the band, and kind of shakes at the strength of the album, which is brought down by Burnley’s growling which I feel is misplaced and detracts from the overall strength of say a song like “Bury Me Alive” feeding into the commercial rock trough that bleeds ones ears on the radio. Don’t miss read me here as both songs musically have some strong composition elements behind them, but the vocal growling is nails on a chalk board for me.
The thing is where the band shines strongest is on the melodic, and the album overall has some awesome melodic moments throughout. It’s something of the bands strong suite which gives most of the albums quality of strength. If you after the likes of quality melodic grungy / hard rock, then you cannot go wrong with the album at all. Hopefully through that door they will woe new fans, whilst retaining the older fans. I think it’s too easy to question the fact that they have maintained a familiar sound without exploring beyond, and maybe that’s one of the stronger pieces of the release, because right across the whole album there is no particular song that you itch to race to the skip button for.
It would also be unfair to say the album lacks originality, but it does walk through familiar waters. It does seem built around commercial interception in terms of not running a ground on venturing across new borders. Instead it maintains the territory that the band has built up over the years, thus in terms of risk management, gives the fans a consistent and predominately risk free release. This might be boring for those looking for more out of the band, but at least it secures a foundation that solid and easy to build from going forward taking in mind that the band has been on hiatus for some time. ‘Dark before Dawn’ is not a revolution comeback album, but rather a consistent platform for the future of the band.
If anything, or one thing is to be taken away from this release is that Breaking Benjamin have left little doubt to their fans that they are still the same band, and that they have not detoured from that which has built them a repertoire of success.
Written by Donovan de Necker
1. Dark (2:10)
2. Failure (3:34)
3. Angels Fall (3:48)
4. Breaking the Silence (3:01)
5. Hollow (3:51)
6. Close to Heaven (4:09)
7. Bury Me Alive (4:04
8. Never Again (3:43)
9. The Great Divide (4:12)
10. Ashes of Eden (4:53)
11. Defeated (3:25)
12. Dawn (1:52)
Benjamin Burnley – lead vocals, guitar, string arrangement
Jasen Rauch – guitar
Keith Wallen – guitar, backing vocals
Aaron Bruch – bass, backing vocals
Shaun Foist – drums, percussion
Rhiannon Burnley – backing vocals on “Dawn”
Dave Eggar – cello on “Ashes of Eden”
Katie Kresek – violin on “Ashes of Eden”
“We Are Not Alone” (2004)
“Dear Agony” (2009)
“Dark Before Dawn” (2015)
Record Label: Hollywood Records, June 2015
Video below: ‘Angels Fall’
Video below: ‘Failure’