Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breaking Benjamin - Dark Before Dawn

It’s been a while since I last felt motivated to write something. And I apologize to those of you that enjoyed reading my reviews. Those of you that know me are aware that Opeth is the only reason that Breaking Benjamin is not still my favorite band. Taking my undying love for this band into consideration, when this album was announced, I told myself that I was not going to let that cause me to just blindly love this album just because of who wrote/performed it. I was lucky enough to see Breaking Benjamin live at the fucking top of their game with their full previous lineup. Unfortunately, it was the last tour that lineup would ever do together. I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over what happened after that tour, but long story short, everyone except for their frontman and songwriter exited the band (two were fired, one left voluntarily). That was in 2010; five fucking years ago. Fast-forward to this year, Benjamin Burnley had obviously written a shitload of material during that hiatus, and has now completely rebuilt the lineup. The million dollar question begs what the hell the new Breaking Benjamin was going to sound like.

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly too optimistic about Ben completely re-creating the lineup. The musicianship and talent of the individual members was a huge part of my love and respect for this band. Especially that of bassist Mark and drummer Chad. But that all started to change as my doubt gradually turned into slight optimism and intrigue, starting with a YouTube video of Shaun Foist playing some Breaking Benjamin covers. Why this guy? Well about half of those videos had “Breaking Benjamin drummer performing (insert BB song title)” as the title of the video. He managed to capture and properly maintain the chaotic and technical drumming style that has been tied to all of Breaking Benjamin’s previous albums. But of course, those were just covers. I can cover songs by The Black Dahlia Murder on bass guitar, but that doesn’t mean I have the ability to write something of that level. So although I wasn’t fully convinced, I was a little less worried about the future of their sound as far as the drums go.

Then of course, in April, Hollywood Records posted the first new Breaking Benjamin song in over 6 years; Failure. No one had any idea what it was going to sound like. My main concern was that they would turn into another power-chord driven radio rock band because all of the musicians that Ben had recruited came from a radio rock background. But really, to my surprise, this sounds EXACTLY like the old lineup. I actually cannot tell the difference between the two lineups. And this made me realize how much Ben really does write; this is his work. Hearing this song was not only a huge refresher, but proof that Breaking Benjamin is truly back and was never going to die out.

The first album reviews I ever wrote (back in 2009) were of the first 4 Breaking Benjamin albums, believe it or not. And six years later, after all of my reviewing experience, with the announcement of this new album, I re-visited the band’s discography from a reviewer’s perspective and realized things about them that I (obviously) didn’t fully have a grasp on back in 2009. Some things I will touch on in this review, but there’s one in particular that I’m going to spend some time talking about because I don’t think that many people understand this about Breaking Benjamin unless it is clearly explained to them, despite it being right in front of their fucking faces.

Alternative metal is such an interesting genre; bands walking the line between hard rock/grunge and heavy metal as if it were some sort of tightrope. Some bands, like Crossfade, Three Days Grace, Cold, and CKY favoring the rock side much more, but still implementing distortion heavy enough and breakdowns dark enough to be considered metal by some. Then there’s the bands that are much more metal than rock, such as Avenged Sevenfold (no, not including their first two albums), Trapt, Seether, Taproot, and Wovenwar. Breaking Benjamin is the most unique out of all of these.

Instead of having a mix of some metal songs and heavy rock songs, Breaking Benjamin perfectly weaves through the two, crossing the line between the two styles multiple times in a single song. It’s impossible sometimes to decide what they play because they will start a song off with one of the heaviest riffs you’ve ever heard that fucking crushes you into the pavement before sliding into a verse that sounds like a generic radio rock song. There are bands that do that, but nowhere near the level and cleanness that these guys do.

Another thing that makes Breaking Benjamin stand out from the rest of these mainstream metal and rock acts is the complexity. Yes, Seether and Taproot are great, but let’s be honest; they’re using simple drum pattern, generic song structures, and power chords. Now take Breaking Benjamin and listen to the level of complexity in the instrumentation compared to their contemporaries. Not only does this just make the music more interesting, it gives it substance and makes it a hell of a lot heavier. That, I think, is fucking metal. The only radio rock thing about these guys is the mainstream-friendly song structures and the melodic verses. Other than that, with the exception of a few songs here and there, what they play is too heavy and too dark for me to call rock. I can’t listen to Evil Angel and Had Enough and fucking call that shit rock, I just can’t.

Back to my original point, though, this band..well…Benjamin Burnley himself has one of the most diverse and colorful musical palettes the world has ever heard. Yes, they always tour with other mainstream rock acts, yes the majority of their fanbase groups them in with those bands, but they are so much more than that. The sheer power and color of their music is far more emotional and heavy than all of these other bands. The level of creativity overpowers every other band in their genre, whatever you consider them to be. It’s just not something I can just simply ignore right now.

As I said before, instrumentally, this sounds exactly like Breaking Benjamin. It’s kind of hard to fully wrap my head around how perfectly Ben fucking pulled this off. First, Breaking Benjamin is now a five-piece. Wait? Their music has always been vocals/rhythm guitar (Ben), bass, lead guitar, and drums, right? Yeah, except here’s what the new lineup is: vocals/rhythm guitar (Ben), lead guitar, rhythm guitar/backing vocals, bass/backing vocals, and drums. So they went from having one vocalist and two guitars to having three vocalists and three guitars. I don’t know what’s with all of these bands having three guitarists nowadays but whatever, I guess if it makes you happy. Maybe he has an extra rhythm guitarist for further complexity in the guitar section or to just simply have a stronger brick wall behind the lead guitarist…the world may never know why these bands have three guitarists (other bands include Whitechapel and Periphery). Obviously Ben still does the lead vocals, but instead of harmonizing with himself, he has two other people harmonizing with him, which could probably end up sounding very…uncomfortable (I can’t think of a good word, it just wouldn’t sound right). But truth be told, you can’t even fucking tell that the harmonizing singers are someone other than Ben. It’s starting to freak me out how perfectly he’s managed to pull this together.

The styles of vocal harmony that appear in many of the songs are very similar to the ones heard in Lights Out from Dear Agony. I don’t know what the word is for it but it’s very unique and works really well with Ben’s voice. But there’s a lot of playing around with that style of harmony in songs like Breaking the Silence, Close to Heaven, and Bury Me Alive. After watching a few recent live videos, it seems that the main backing vocalist is the bassist, Aaron Bruch. But because of Aaron’s (I’m assuming it’s him) higher range and Keith’s lower range, the vocals are all over the fucking place on this album, making it much more interesting and unexpected for the listener.

Something that’s also being brought back from the We are not Alone and Phobia days is breakdowns. Yes, I know they’re not the type of breakdowns you’d hear from a deathcore band, and that’s because (surprise!) Breaking Benjamin is not a deathcore band! But in just about all of the songs, there is a nice crunchy breakdown towards the end. Once again, a major METAL element that they use in their sound.

This album is unbelievable beyond what I can conceive. I love everything about it. I honestly didn’t get my hopes up too high with this whole new lineup thing; I didn’t think Ben would pull through. But he fucking did, and together as a band they have managed to pick up right where they left off six years ago without losing ANY ground what so ever. Breaking Benjamin is a band that can satisfy both metal and rock fans alike. They have the heaviness and complexity of a metal band while also having the traditional song structure and verse styles of a rock band. This is by far one of the best comeback albums ever released and gets a perfect 20/20 score from me.