Review Summary: All the melodrama and this to show for it?
Breaking Benjamin has become a fittingly ironic band name for Benjamin Burnley over the years, considering the constant health problems and various phobias that have been weighing demons for many years. Ben really hit an all-time low after the release of Dear Agony
, resulting in the band going into a hiatus whilst Ben tackled several health problems. During this time the infamous Shallow Bay: Best Of
was released, causing massive rifts between Ben, Aaron Fink and Mark James; the latter two members departed the band to file a lawsuit against Ben for legal ownership of the band name, but when the smoke settled it was Ben who came out victorious. During the lawsuit period Chad left the band to join Black Label Society, effectively leaving Ben as the sole member of Breaking Benjamin. Post-lawsuit Ben was slowly getting back on the horse, posting various updates on social media, playing a few acoustic gigs and gradually working his way back up to a full band.
In 2015 Breaking Benjamin are at a critical junction in their career, where life has given them a golden opportunity many bands aren’t offered: a fresh start. Ample amounts of fresh lyrical material that could be unleashed on fans that delve into the darker things of his life: his illness’ and the lawsuit hell he went through with his ex-band mates; as well as the positive parts of his life: his wife and new born son. There is also the possibility that the album could take a slightly different musical direction, given that four brand new members have joined Breaking Benjamin. Yes, on paper Dark Before Dawn
could well be the band's best LP yet. The reality is that Breaking Benjamin’s fifth outing doesn’t even come close.
The best way to describe Dark Before Dawn
is, yes, it sounds like Breaking Benjamin, albeit a rather stagnant one. Upon first listen of the album, my biggest surprise came from the sheer lack of fresh ideas; the disappointingly direct continuation from Dear Agony
, with elements of We Are Not Alone
thrown into the mix, felt a little too close to home. The album as a whole feels like a regression; listening to the album's proper opening track "Failure" and tracks "Break The Silence" and "Ashes of Eden" just made me wonder if Ben just went into the We Are Not Alone
B-side archives and dug out some riffs, rather than sitting down and jamming with his new members. The furthest the band gets to pushing themselves sonically is using Djent chugging guitar tones. A shame, because you can tell all of the members are adequate musicians but – as with the original members – never get the chance to really express their own style.
The real problems fall on the lyric writing though. Everything Ben sings about is nestled away in the same banal selection of words he’s been using for years. "Angels Fall" is a prime example: instrumentally it sounds like an adequate continuation on from Dear Agony, but it’s lyrically where songs like this feel so glaringly dated:
“When angels fall with broken wings
I can't give up, I can't give in
when all is lost and daylight ends
I'd carry you and we will live forever”
This style of writing has been used to death and is the biggest reason songs never excel past fair and unfortunately, sticking to this comfort zone has ruined the topics he touches on. It also makes tracks feel like they lack any sincerity or feeling, coming across like Ben is just going through the motions. It all feels like a wasted opportunity, but what’s worse is the only thing the exhausted lyrical style made me want to do was switch off.
While this seems like an execution, there is the odd moment here and there where the album pushes past mundane and shows glimmers of excitement: "Hollow" and "The Great Divide" shows signs of a Breaking Benjamin I could get onboard with, and while it's all very lacklustre there isn't a bad
track here. Dark Before Dawn
’s biggest asset definitely falls on Ben’s voice though, which, as always, manages to bring those infectious melodies to the forefront that will end up being stuck in your head for days. Taking lyrics and dull riffing to one side, the melodies are always on the money and his creamy vocals are always on point. Ben’s vocal performances are that great that they also occasionally push past all the negatives that bury the album and tracks like "Close To Heaven", where it does genuinely feel as though he’s putting real emotion and effort into the song, really shine.
With that being said unfortunately the cons definitely outweigh any of the pros, and it all boils down to Ben’s lack of effort. Dark Before Dawn
will undoubtedly appeal to and please Breaking Benjamin fans, if there is one thing you can take home from this album, it’s that this sounds like a Breaking Benjamin record. But taking that out of the equation, if you’re someone like me who expected something more, this is a disastrously missed opportunity. Ben doesn’t utilise any of the potential he had with his new members, which could have led to really branching out and pushing the boundaries and comfort zones of the band; nor does Ben attempt a different lyrical approach to bring depth to songs. This album basically sees Ben playing it safe, and that is Dark Before Dawn
’s biggest criticism: it's all played out too safe. Maybe I expected a little too much from this album, but for Ben to go through all that he has in the last half decade, to come back to the world of music with an album that sounds like a collection of dated sounds from the band's archives, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. An enjoyable listen for what it is, but a crushing opportunity wasted, that proves Breaking Benjamin is a dictatorship, with a dictator running low on ideas.