Breaking Benjamin: Dear Agony Review

The word “consistent” doesn’t really do Benjamin Burnley and his band justice. Rather, this talented Pennsylvanian rock group’s insatiable desire to elevate the quality of their music with constant tweaks and minor improvements could be chalked up to perfectionism. From the rugged, hard rocker debut Saturate to the ingeniously brooding masterpiece Phobia, Breaking Benjamin has found a way to top their last entry each and every time they enter the studio. Although this steady increase in quality has sometimes come at the cost of the music’s harder elements, it’s impossible to deny that Phobia is anything less than Breaking Benjamin’s crowning achievement. Credit Burnley and his band for continuously expanding on their sound to keep it refreshing but still familiar at the same time. Given the upward progression of Breaking Benjamin’s music, it makes sense that anticipation for the group’s fourth album was at an all time high. Unfortunately, while Dear Agony continues the trend of expanding the group’s sound, it falls just short of the mark of excellence Phobia and We Are Not Alone achieved. Although this new installment fails to reach the peak of artistry, lyrical complexity and overall dramatic, dark mood that their last effort accomplished, Benheads should not be disappointed with the newest album. Dear Agony fails to live up to expectations, but perhaps because it had the impossible task of following up such a flawless third album, expectations of this latest installment were slightly unrealistic.

Standout Tracks

Burnley’s eerie “I’m cold and broken” opens up Dear Agony on the lead-off track “Fade Away,” immediately letting listeners know that this new album will be in the same vein of music the band has become known for: dramatic, hard-hitting, desperate and emotionally charged. Anyone worried that Breaking Benjamin has forgotten how to rock an audience doesn’t need to look much farther than this dynamic opener; typically killer guitar hooks and riffs from Aaron Fink and Burnley, Mark Klepaski’s recognizably heavy bass line, Chad Szeliga’s intelligible drumming and of course, Burnley’s incredible vocals that fluctuate from impassioned, soft coos to fervent, rougher bellows characterize the winning formula fans have grown accustomed to. “Fade Away” gets overlooked because of the electric track that follows it, but makes for a terrific opener to Breaking Bad’s latest entry.

“I Will Not Bow” is without a doubt the best song Dear Agony has to offer and even gives “The Diary Of Jane” a run for its money as the greatest song Breaking Benjamin has ever written. This first single from the album epitomizes the band’s tendency to write songs that evoke both hope and desperation at the same time as Burnley valiantly declares “All is lost again / But I’m not giving in. / I will not bow / I will not break / I will shut the world away. / I will not fall / I will not fade / I will take your breath away.” But a lyrically compelling song is nothing without appropriately electrifying music to back up, and Breaking Benjamin does not disappoint on that front either, filling the void with captivating guitar riffs, intriguing rhythms that set the dark mood and Burnley’s sublimely dramatic vocals. This heavy and breathtaking track (complete with an entertaining music video) should satisfy both new and old BB fans with its unparalleled lyrics, breakdowns and vocals.

The title track of the album certainly lives up to its standards, as “Dear Agony” delivers one of the most moving and emotionally significant ballad’s in Breaking Benjamin’s entire song catalogue. Burnley’s struggles with life manifest themselves through stirring lyrics expressed by his ever-impeccable and melodic voice. Burnley begs for peace from the entity of pain and sorrow, imploring “Dear agony / Just let go of me / Suffer slowly / Is this the way it’s got to be? / Don’t bury me / Faceless enemy / I’m so sorry.” Burnley’s tragic struggles with his inner demons are perfectly voiced in this sad and heartfelt song that shows the talent this band has even in this softer realm of rock.

The Verdict

Dear Agony is not the best Breaking Benjamin album ever made, but it comes close. It’s short play time and the influx of ballads that overloads it bring the album down as a whole, but Burnley and crew display the same high level of artistry and quality that translates into powerful and engaging music. There are a number of stellar songs that could have made the list of standout tracks, such as the album’s second single, the hopeful ballad “Give Me A Sign.” “Anthem Of The Angels” and the dynamic closer “Without You” also stand out as equally powerful ballads that employ string instruments to add extra drama and emotion into tracks that were already epic and heartfelt. Fans of Three Days Grace, Sick Puppies, Red, Seether, Skillet, Trapt, Papa Roach and Disturbed can all appreciate this darker style of hard rock, though none of those bands pull it off quite as well as Breaking Benjamin. Burnley, writing and recording his first album fully sober, once again reveals his musical genius with compelling, despairing and hopeful lyrics all at the same time. The guitar riffs are as striking as they ever were and the drums don’t disappoint either, but the reason Dear Agony misses the mark is because of its ballad-heavy track list. Of the eleven songs on the album, six of them are ballads or very close to it. Burnley has proven in the past how adept and moving a Breaking Benjamin ballad can be, but here they slightly overload the album and contrast themselves with the typical, aggressive tracks that fill the rest of the open space. Many fans still cling to We Are Not Alone as the band’s best work because that harder element constitutes the majority of the album. So while the mastery of Phobia is based on its perfect balance in that respect, it’s hard to avoid faulting Dear Agony for its overabundance of ballads. Even if they are all phenomenal. It’s a pity the current lawsuit between Burnley and former band members Fink and Klepaski is preventing fans from getting a new dose of Breaking Benjamin anytime soon, although Burnley intends to continue his band’s work as soon as it’s settled. The world of rock is not the same with the void left by this talented and incredibly artistic band.

Final Score: 8/10

Rank: 3rd (four total albums)

Track List

  1. Fade Away
  2. I Will Not Bow
  3. Crawl
  4. Give Me A Sign
  5. Hopeless
  6. What Lies Beneath
  7. Anthem Of The Angels
  8. Lights Out
  9. Dear Agony
  10. Into The Nothing
  11. Without You

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