Metal’s Seen Better and Worse Days, No Breaking News There
It’s a dangerous place, post-grunge metal. So many bands have proven to be pathetic excuses for such in this oft-tired genre. Even without naming them I’m sure they come to mind: Korn, Nickelback, Linkin Park, Puddle of Mudd, Limp Bizkit, etc. Some of them may have had not-so-awful moments in the sun with a single that blasted across FM radio and fueled many a teenage male’s rage fantasies. But that’s the ultimate conflict, isn’t it? When you’re trying to sound hard, edgy, and ominous, if you score a radio hit you’re not so hard. Breaking Benjamin’s fourth album, Dear Agony, is a solid one, proving itself listenable and well-recorded if not monotonous and unadventurous.
The Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania quartet are a surprise success story in a cesspool of boring alt-metal. If any of these post-modern metal bands know what’s good for them, they’ll throw in a quieter track here and there, a memorable chorus, intelligible lyrics—generally speaking, some accessibility. That may be one thing Tool have always been a little short on, but there’s no doubt the L.A. prog-metal sound is an influence on singer and primary songwriter Ben Burnley. What’s most disturbing is that Burnley collaborated with Jasen Rauch of RED for almost one third of these songs. RED, for the uneducated, is a Christian rock band from Nashville. Rauch and Burnley wrote standout “I Will Not Bow,” “Hopeless,” “Lights Out,” and “Without You.” This doesn’t make a third of the album a Christian album, but you do start to wonder about Burnley and the band’s direction.
The impact of Dear Agony is a little front-loaded. The album opens with its two strongest tracks, “Fade Away” and “I Will Not Bow;” the latter of the two was licensed for the futuristic Bruce Willis thriller Surrogates. Chad Szeliga exhibits capable, muscled and steady drumming, essential for a power metal record. The guitars of Aaron Fink and bassist Mark James Klepaski (who left a successful streak with dark metal’s Lifer ten years ago) are the solid foundation atop which Burnley’s voice sits.
The thing about this band is that their instrumental compositions are far from virtuosic, but never sadly unimpressive. They’re just the vehicle for Burnley’s radio-friendly voices and verses. This is their third album produced by David Bendeth, who does them justice, but it will most likely be received as more of the same from Breaking Benjamin fans. And they’re out there: 2006’s Phobia sold 130k copies in its first week. It seems as though Breaking Benjamin have done their homework and they’re trying not to sound like their poppier peers, but they’re also not trying to sound like no one else ever has.