A review of Dear Agony, Breaking Benjamin’s latest album
By Caleb Nelson
Agony isn’t fun for everyone, but it sells CDs. Inspired extensively by break ups and unrequited wrongs, Benjamin Burnley and his band of pseudo pariahs found their niche: grave guitar riffs and gloom. What fun to wallow in pain.
Named after a broken microphone from a 1998 open mic night, where Burnley played Nirvana covers, Breaking Benjamin has been on the fringes of mainstream alt-metal since they released their first single, Polyamorous, in 2002.
Four albums later, their 2009 release of Dear Agony made the band more popular than ever, shooting them to number 40 on Billbord’s Hot 100 list with the single I Will Not Bow. The song also received exposure because it is on the soundtrack for the new Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates. Lately it’s gotten extensive radio play, and iTunes listeners can’t get enough of it. 2,777 of them gave the album an astonishing five star rating.
Dear Agony could easily be labeled Breaking Benjamin’s most melancholy album to date, but the formula hasn’t changed. Burnley’s hard to resist self-harmonizing vocals, and almost embarrassingly raw honesty apparently sells.
In another eleven misery ridden tracks Burnley aptly expresses the incongruent feelings of teen angst, even though at 31, he is nearly twice as old as the vast majority of his fans. Perhaps exclusively written for people who want to paint their rooms black and probably take pride in their Prozac prescription, this album bleeds all over everything from first strum to string outro.
It’s like a guy with a paper cut that won’t put on a band-aid.
The guttural screams over pop-grungy melodies meticulously craft an illusion of anguish with all the nonchalance of a lion with a thorn in its paw. Giddy with pain, Burnley manages to mellow his way into bridges, repeating words like “you’re dead alive” in sorrowful tones. But the choruses pick the pieces up with head splitting consistency.
Perhaps some of these lyrics are direct accounts of Burnley’s struggles with alcoholism. It certainly makes sense since the album cover is a scan of the singer’s alcohol addled brain.
"I've suffered permanent brain damage through alcoholism," Burnley said in an interview with Billboard. "I don't want to say that I'm proud to have stopped, but I'm glad I realized that I wanted to stick around for a while."
Burnley has been sober for two years, and Dear Agony is his first musical effort since he quit drinking. It seems that the alcohol didn’t make him any better musically, but sobriety certainly quelled any conflict in his lyrics. This album reeks of self-abasement and misery – not a smidgeon of rage to be found.
As long as adolescents thirst for affirmation that life is difficult, the music industry continues to pay artists who manufacture despair. Maybe after this album Breaking Benjamin will have made enough money to quell their infectious depression.