The popular alternative rock band Breaking Benjamin released their much-anticipated new album Dark Before Dawn in late June. This is their first album in 6 years following Benjamin Burnley’s still undiagnosed illness which forced him to step away from performing, and the band’s ultimate dissolution and legal battle over the rights to the moniker. As lead singer, songwriter and founder, Benjamin Burnley rose victorious, but as the only original member left in the band, fans were conflicted over the new album and with good reason. With the exception of a few remarkable songs, this album is a pale imitation of their earlier recordings.
“Failure,” the hit single from the album stands out as a testament to the full, emotional sound that Breaking Benjamin fans have come to love. Musically, the song has all the intricacies one expects from the talented band, each instrument weaving its own melody that blends together into a dark and grooving melody. Lyrically, the song sets up the theme for the album, which is the push through the darkness into the light of dawn. It speaks to the exhaustion and hopelessness in the darkest part of one’s struggles and failures. The song is an anthem to the weary so near to giving up, but it contains one glimmer of hope in “the light that leads [one] home.”
Bringing the listener up from the darkness of “Failure,” “Angels Fall” says not to give up but to keep fighting as everything falls around you. In a style similar to many of the songs on Breaking Benjamin’s 2009 album, Dear Agony mixes soft verses and hard choruses through a heavenly battle to rise from darkness. While not as musically intricate as some of their songs, it does have a great balance between tones. This also blends very well with the emotion of the lyrics, which deal with the drive to fight through hardship even at what seems like the end of the world.
Later in the album, “Close to Heaven” grooves to a rolling tempo and a contrast between the distorted instrumentals and the largely smoother vocals. This song is about being on the verge of death and is a message to the loved ones holding the subject alive. The song is full of references to death, and the voice in the song makes a commitment to love and to “sleep close to heaven.” It is the voice’s struggle through weakness and doubt before death and deals with the desire to be released into heaven.
The last song on the album (excluding the instrumental outro), “Defeated,” wraps up Dark Before Dawn with the voice of the song “[standing] alone, no longer defeated.” This song is one of the few on the album that truly mixes the heavy, driving chorus with the softer verses, something that is common on most of Breaking Benjamin’s other popular songs. As the song reaches its dawn, the voice of the song stands alone and defeats the Devil, rejecting the love that was restricting the ability to overcome defeat.
While the songs above are worth listening to, the rest of the album seems to lack the true emotion and intricacy that can be found on previous albums. “Failure” is the best example of what the album seems to lack, especially musically. It has the familiar interplay between instruments that builds a complex melody. Each instrument can be singled out, and yet they all mesh together into a flowing tune. The rest of the album seems to lack such complexity, or to perform it poorly. In many ways it sounds almost as if the band is mimicking itself but losing its touch in the process. This is most likely due to the band being composed of all new members and will hopefully pass with time. The album suffers from an almost bland sound that is merely in the style of Breaking Benjamin.
For Breaking Benjamin fans, this album presents a new chapter for the band. However, for a band known for hits such as “Cold” and “The Diary of Jane,” this album falls short of the alt-rock defining sound that fans are used to. Lyrically, the band is still potent and dark, but musically the band has lost its ability to produce its full and forceful sound. Fans should explore the first release with the new members with a cautious but open mind.