Refusing to Break
The alt-metal group Breaking Benjamin has experienced a thorough transformation after their 2009 tour for Dear Agony was prematurely cut off due to front man Benjamin Burnley’s well-documented battle with a mystery illness doctors have yet to diagnose. After a legal spat involving a remix, Burnley broke off from the rest of the former bandmates, retaining the moniker for himself and hiring an entirely new group of instrumentalists to help him complete their most recent release. Burnley continues to struggle with his ongoing medical condition (which he attributes to past alcohol abuse), but his return from hiatus shows he is passionate to deliver to a fan base Dark Before Dawn’s sales records would suggest is more alive than ever. Does the reformed post grunge outfit deliver a promising batch of fresh material, or does it repackage a stale sound that isn’t quite as heartfelt as it used to be?
The album opens with mood-setter track “Dark” before going head first into the album’s lead single. “Failure” is universal, refined and effortless. It accomplishes what hard alternative does best, harboring solid, radio-friendly grooves that carry the listener into an anthemic chorus with ease and power. The lyrical themes are stereotyped for the genre which finds itself constantly fighting through desperation to rise through adversity. The song feels inspired and cathartic, albeit impersonal. Burnley has publicly reflected on his intention to deliver themes that are vague and open to interpretation. This lack of personality, however, drags on for the rest of the album, and the remaining material reveals itself to be less inspiring than Burnley’s own story of redemption.
“Angels Fall” and “Never Again” remind the listener of the early 2000s, hinting at P.O.D., Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. As refined as the sound and composition is (for the genre), it can’t help but feeling outdated and predictable. The production is slick on “Angels” but the track falls flat, with superfluous pads and meaningless lyrics that don’t speak to a cohesive message. “Breaking the Silence” carries this trend with vocal melodies and rhythmic structure that feel unfortunately reminiscent of every other hard rock radio hit we’ve heard in the last decade. It’s clear Breaking Benjamin intends to continue to do what it does best, and that is to churn out radio friendly hits, but one can’t help but wish they would evolve into something relevant.
“Hollow” brings a crisp, present production with strong composition and powerful chorus.
Besides the album’s only guitar solo, which is a briefly unmusical batch of mediocre showboating, it is a pleasurable mid-album listen that injects some life back into you. The album bottoms out in the middle, and comes off as repetitive and crowded as we hear the same tempo, tonality and rhythmic patterns five to six songs in a row. “Torn in Two” and “Great Divide” change the pace with a more positive, glimmering sound in the choruses. “Ashes of Eden” is the most sonically unique track on the album, and although the vocals are hyper-processed with detectable auto-tune and track comping, it is a very welcome respite from the weight of the rest of the album.
The album does a few things very well, which is to deliver a refined, radio-friendly hard rock groove with ambiguously relatable lyrics that make you want to sing, but the group refuses to take a risk. “Failure” is a standout simply because it is the best of what they do best, and because it has a slightly more modern sound. The album leaves one grasping for a genuine and personal expression in the tracks, but they only come away with repetitive, superficial moments of release during the stronger choruses. Longtime fans will eat up the new material, but the album may not present enough worthwhile substance to an outsider looking for an introduction to the band.