Breaking Benjamin - Dear Agony (Summer Music Listening Series)


Ago 20 2010, 17:29

Let it be known: it’s taken literally WEEKS to come to terms with my feelings on this album and then even longer to find the words to describe those feelings. No album up to this point has taken as long to survey as this one; I’ve had practically entire nights dedicated to rehearsing in my mind how I should explain my thoughts. Here, finally, is my attempt to actually explain myself in writing.

My involvement with Dear Agony starts with the fact that nibchan and StarPiece both love Breaking Benjamin. And I mean absolutely LOVE them. There was a period last school year that they practically seemed to dedicate to being huge fans of this album—I can quite vividly remember the first time I heard the chorus to what I later found out was Fade Away blare out of nibchan's laptop speakers, with her and StarPiece jamming and singing along to it; and the number of inside jokes they’ve created because of this band and this album is quite amazing.

My first thoughts basically boiled down to “Why all the rage over this? Doesn’t sound like anything special.” Eventually, I delved a little farther into song samples solely out of interest in slightly tackling that question, fully heard and liked Fade Away and thus downloaded it, and when they saw that I had it, they talked about how they were gonna turn me on more to them, to which I responded NO THEY WERE NOT, for just one good song from a band not in my scope of interest does not sufficient interest create. Two songs apparently does, however; I found out later on in the semester that I digged I Will Not Bow, and that made me want to delve even deeper into Dear Agony, and I therefore borrowed it from nibchan.

So, to start, my initial impression of this album being “nothing special” was quite wrong. I originally pegged Breaking Benjamin’s sound as being of the postgrunge Nickelback/Creed/the like variety, but upon closer listening, I sense strains of old-school Linkin Park, emo bands, and sometimes even Disturbed permeating throughout their music. I’m not especially huge into any of those reference points, and it’s also not the most eccentric combination of influences gathered under one roof, but I can get behind it. Just so long as that sound is put in the service of good songs. And Dear Agony gets pretty interesting when it comes to that. It’s probably best that my overall opinion on it be stated first before getting into specifics. So, my verdict: as a whole, this album is average, but not great. In pieces, however, it sometimes reaches greatness; strip away nearly half the tracks, leaving just the best ones, and what’s left could make for a great EP.

Most of the best tracks on the album are the first ones. Take Fade Away, a pretty relentless track boasting sixteenth-note riffing that introduces the verses, short verses that are just kind of quiet but quickly give way to some of the most bombastic choruses on the album, and an excellent guitar break that even incorporates a little quirkiness with a fake stop. And I Will Not Bow, which, though the chorus could be a little better, is the most unique track here with its abundance of musical intricacies like the excellent stuttering riff following its synthesized introduction, nice guitar play during the verses, even more great guitar play in the instrumental bridge, and a set of guitar chords dedicated just to the closing.

Then there is Crawl, a ballad-hard rock hybrid with the album’s sweetest vocal melodies (“Are you holding on? Still holding on?”) and crystalline high guitar chimes in the verses working harmoniously with the palm-muted guitars in the second part of the verses and the total heaviness of the chorus, complete with well-placed screaming. It’s the best thing on this album hands-down—the greatest early Linkin Park track made by a different band—which makes it such a shame that Give Me A Sign, a perfectly respectable song in its own right and one that I quite like, follows right after. That bit of sequencing just serves to highlight that it’s a lesser song than Crawl and also takes a more obvious approach: straight-up rock balladry seemingly bred for crossover potential, complete with acoustic strumming (to its credit, very delicate and tasteful strumming—Nickelback should take note) in the verses.

After that song is where Dear Agony starts faltering. Not because the following songs are really bad, but rather because they’re just average: songs with good aspects that are marred by flawed elements. Hopeless has a pretty badass introduction riff and boasts double kick drums, but outside of that, it’s little more than a sawed-off Fade Away with screaming in the chorus that, especially when compared to its use in Crawl, is ridiculous and unnecessary. What Lies Beneath is a waltz rocker where I feel like I have to survive through the clunky and graceless distorted guitar chords of the choruses and bridge if I want to enjoy the darkly pretty verses. Anthem Of The Angels, apparent right off the bat from its not-so-modest title and the cinematic-strings introduction, is a slow anthem that’s probably a little too histrionic for its own good. On a somewhat nicer note, the title track Dear Agony does the soaring-anthem approach better, even being MORE anthemic than Anthem without sounding as ham-fisted, but it could be an even better song by using more clean, delicate guitar tones (especially the one in the introduction. It’s actually quite beautiful) rather than mixing in so much brute-force distortion.

There are a couple more straight-up good tracks left in the latter part of the album—Lights Out makes a thematic change from the overall self-agonizing of most of the album’s lyrics to showing apathy, attaches it to a sonic assault whose relentlessness matches that of Fade Away, and the second parts of its long choruses (“And when the lights go out on you…”) are probably the most transcendently awesome parts of the album. And Without You pulls off desperation quite nicely, most notably in its good choruses and a well-done dramatic second half (complete with melancholy string outro) perfectly appropriate of its last-song designation.

At the end of it all, despite my opinion on the worth of the entire album, I’m glad to have borrowed it because of all the good stuff it’s brought me. Breaking Ben may still not have my love, but they have my respect. And, also, my eternal thanks for making Crawl.

Breaking Benjamin - Dear Agony

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  • StarPiece

    Glad to see that we got you into this band and album...and yes, our inside jokes are pretty amazing! :3

    Ago 21 2010, 4:27
  • nibchan

    It's good to know that you have some respect for Breaking Benjamin. I'm glad you would listen to something so different from the music you are used to listening to, but comparing them to Nickleback at first is a little tasteless. :p Anyway before I get into my opinion on them and how it does/doesn't compare to yours I kind of just want to mention what got me liking them so much. First off, I really like Ben Burnley's voice. Something about that sounding voice draws me to this kind of music. Thus the reason I like Crossfade, Daughtry, and what little Dommin I have heard. Second, I really like the lyrics in this album more so than the others. At the time that this album was released listening to this was like having my feeling put into song form. The melodies are pretty nice too in my opinion. Breaking Benjamin has this distinct sound that distinguishes them from other bands, so the comparison to early Linkin Park and Disturbed is weird to me, since that is never the connection I make. I compare them more with Three Days Grace and Shinedown actually. That may be because they all have them elements that draw me to them. The nice vocals, the emotional lyrics, and this semi-typical sound that for some reason I love in this kinda music. Alright, well about the songs in this album. I will admit that I am nit picky with the ones that I listen to more, Dear Agony and Give me a Sign. This first few songs are definitely ones that make the biggest impact. When it comes to most of the songs you mentioned I could overall agree with what you're saying, but I myself think that Give me a Sign is better Crawl. Just my opinion. Well that is my opinion on your opinion on this album lol.

    Ago 24 2010, 1:27
  • RedStripe118

    Haha, yup, StarPiece! You keep those inside jokes coming. XD Thanks for the comment, nibchan; it gives someone who values music with essentially a different mindset some perspective as to what you see in some of your songs. Now for a response of my own, because there's a few things worth expanding upon. I agree that Breaking Ben do have a distinct sound about them - as I was hearing Dear Agony, it sounded to me like just Breaking Benjamin, not reminding me of anything else - and I think my discussion on their sound puts too much priority on the connections. The Linkin Park and Disturbed references weren't meant to be overall comparisons for what Breaking Benjamin sound like. Really, the ways Breaking Ben remind me of those two are more subtle than that and weren't overt to me at first; I didn't actually draw the connections as I was listening to the music, but rather as I was thinking about the songs after having heard them, trying to make sense of why I connected to them the way I did. Little analogies to those two bands surfaced that way - some of the guitar work in the harder songs is a bit reminiscent of the Disturbed I've heard, for example. I'm not actually able to list, with any real authority, bands that could serve as real comparisons to Breaking Ben like the way you do with Three Days Grace and Shinedown, considering that Breaking Ben is the first and only band with the semi-typical sound you reference that I've really listened to (I don't count my sole Shinedown exposure, The Sound Of Madness, because it lies well outside that sound). The point of bringing up the Nickelback connection, by the way, was that it was an ill-begotten comparison, haha. The tastelessness essentially IS the point; back then, I'm sure you've figured, I was pretty hostile to the existence of Breaking Ben the same way I was to Nickelback. Having now heard Breaking Ben more extensively as well as having even heard a bit more Nickelback, however, I don't draw much similarity between the two anymore. And not even in terms of quality (my estimation of Nickelback compared to my thoughts of them in the past is better, even if they still don't command much of my attention), just their sound. One last thing: I put a differing amount of stock in the vocals (and the lyrics, to extend that) and also have a varying taste in voices - granted, I like Ben's voice, but the singers I'd most likely list among my favorites lie in a different vein from him. And, well, that's my response to your opinion of my opinion on this album, haha. Now I've got a question for you, nibchan. You mentioned that you could overall agree with the things I said about Dear Agony. How much does that extend to the songs I've criticized?

    Ago 24 2010, 18:38
  • nibchan

    Hmm. Well All the ones that you mentioned I could pretty much agree with. They are the ones that stand out in the album. Except that I can't say I like Crawl or Without You that much. The reasoning behind it isn't as well thought out as yours. I just like them and that's it. :x

    Ago 25 2010, 4:09
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