Review Summary: As competent & inoffensive as ever, Dear Agony is unlikely to change your opinion of Breaking Benjamin.
The general perception towards post-grunge outfit Breaking Benjamin has always been an interesting one. For a band that often gets compared to critically panned groups such as Nickelback, Seether & Three Days Grace, the quartet from Pennsylvania appear to get off lightly. Is it due to their relative technical proficiency, consistent competency, or simply as they have yet to break worldwide with a smash hit single like those other performers? Do not feel too sorry for them however, since previous LP ‘Phobia’ still sold over a million copies, so they are sure to be living comfortably enough.
With ‘Phobia’ consolidating on 2004’s ‘We Are Not Alone’, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s 4th album may have been looking to stretch their boundaries. Unfortunately, that is not the case as Breaking Benjamin predominantly play it safe with another inoffensive and consistent release. There is no outlandish experimentation, hardly a foray into metal, no side-step into pop-punk catchiness, not even some offensive lyrics a’la Hinder & Nickelback. They know what they are good at doing and appear comfortable enough to continue following that formula.
In truth, there is not a great deal more to say about ‘Dear Agony’. As always, there are a handful of standouts (lead single ‘I Will Not Bow’, the catchy duo of ‘What Lies Beneath’ & ‘Without You’, and the heavier ‘Crawl’ & ‘Lights Out’) that are complemented by a solid batch of tracks that a little too often blend into each other. Aaron Fink’s guitar-work is rather impressive, the rhythm section capable, and Ben Burnley’s vocals are as strong and melodic as ever.
Burnley’s lyrics (occasionally assisted by Red’s Jasen Rauch) are also sufficient, if a little disappointing considering his neurotic nature. For someone that fears flying, is a recovering alcoholic, believes he has countless disorders and has plastered a scan of his brain on the album’s front cover, one would think he could have explored a wider variety of subjects than what he does here. In general, it is just a shame that the album does not include a little more imagination… Even a differentiating stripped back acoustic cut would have been nice, since it is something the band have nailed in the past.
To a point, Breaking Benjamin’s strength and weakness are one and the same. They are competent in almost every area of making their music and can be relied upon to deliver a solid collection of songs every couple of years. However, that same competency seems to also hold them back from breaking out of their comfort factor to distinguish themselves from their peers. Whether you judge the glass as half full or half empty is an individual choice, but either way, ‘Dear Agony’ is unlikely to change your opinion of Breaking Benjamin… Or for that matter, mainstream rock in general.
Recommended Tracks: I Will Not Bow, Without You & What Lies Beneath.