Sound — 6
Breaking Benjamin formed in 1998, in Pennsylvania. There were several lineup changes throughout the band's history, though the most dramatic occurred because of the release of the greatest hits album, "Shallow Bay: The Best of Breaking Benjamin," which was released by the other members of the band without Benjamin Burnley's sign off. Benjamin responded by firing Aaron Fink and Mark Klepaski and suing them for monetary damages, as well as for the legal rights the name Breaking Benjamin. The current members of the band were recruited for the new album in 2014. Aaron Bruch (bass, backing vocals), Keith Wallen (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jason Rauch (lead guitar), and Shaun Foist (drums and programming) joined Benjamin Burnley in the lineup and each recorded their parts on the album, though the album was almost exclusively written by Burnley before he had completed bringing new members into the fold. "Dark Before Dawn" includes 12 tracks and has a runtime of approximately 42 minutes. Three singles have been released preceding the album release - "Failure" was released as the lead single in March, "Angels Fall" was released as the second single in April, and "Defeated" was released in May. The album doesn't sound significantly different from Breaking Benjamin's previous albums, with the biggest difference being the backing vocals are noticeably better than on previous releases.
The album opens up with the track, "Dark," which is predominantly built around creating an ambience - it is just over 2 minutes, and doesn't really have any lyrics, just some sampled audio and some "aahs" for the vocals. The lead single, "Failure" is the next track up, which opens up with a twisty little hard rock riff, which reminds me of some older Papa Roach for some reason I can't quit put my finger on. The lyrics are somewhere between abstract and narrative, and tell an interesting story. Next up is the second single from the album, "Angels Fall," which (at parts) reminds me very strongly of "Save Yourself" by Stabbing Westward. Ultimately, what sets this song apart from "Save Yourself" is that it is less enthusiastic and has an adult contemporary vibe to it. "Breaking the Silence" is the next track up, and this is a heavier song than previous tracks on the album. The heavier backing vocals on this track are one of the key elements that set this apart from other tracks. "Hollow" has a riff that is somewhat reminiscent of the riff I remarked on from the single, "Failure." "Close to Heaven" reminds me a little bit of a Queen song - "Who Wants to Live Forever" in parts. It is hard for new music, especially with rock and hard rock, to avoid sounding derivative of other existing rock and hard rock, but I find several places on this album where that is too close to the surface. In Breaking Benjamin's defense, the song does take some turns and doesn't stay in that vibe for the entire track on "Close to Heaven" - it actually gets a little bit better during parts of the second half of the song. "Bury Me Alive" has a few moments where it sounds a little bit like 311, but it passes pretty quickly - this song actually has a lot of potential, and I'm betting it is killer when played live. "Never Again" does some interesting things with how it builds up, and what is going on with the lead guitar with the track. "The Great Divide" is probably my favorite track on the album, just based on the way the verses are handled. There are a few things that go on during the choruses, and briefly when the rhythm is kind of going back and doing the same type of riffing from "Failure" and "Hollow," which detract from the song. "Ashes of Eden" is a slower, quieter love song, but in a lot of ways it reminds me of a pop punk love song if it was played in a minor key. Next up, we have the single, "Defeated," which is a slower track and more of a ballad about no longer being defeated, etc. The album closes out with the track, "Dawn," which is mostly centered around creating a certain ambience, much like the track "Dark" that opens the album. I'm not completely happy with two of the tracks essentially being devoted to just bookending the album. They were okay, and I actually enjoyed them musically, but they're too short to think of as songs and should have either been fleshed out, or built into the surrounding songs. Also, there were too many moments that were too obviously derivative of other existing popular music.
Lyrics — 7
Benjamin Burnley is still running the show, or even more so now than on previous releases. His vocals are still definitely on par with their earlier releases, but his support on backing vocals from Aaron Bruch and Keith Wallen help to push the vocals to the next level. The vocals used on the album are probably over 95% clean vanilla vocals, but that just helps add emphasis when screaming, or even very occasional weird processing, are used for the vocals. The lyrics tend to gravitate somewhere between narrative and abstract. As a sample of the album lyrics, here are some lyrics from the track, "Life will come our way/ It has only just begun/ The world will die alone/ The frail will fall below/ Time will take our place/ We return it back to one/ The calm before the cold/ The long and lonely road/ Look for the light that leads me home/ Tired of feeling lost, tired of letting go/ Tear the whole world down, tear the whole world down/ Failure."
Overall Impression — 7
I have to be honest - I was excited about this album. I was excited because this was the first album from Breaking Benjamin in years, and I had nothing but high expectations from the new members. There were no specific big let downs from any one member or their performance, but the end products just weren't working for me, except for a few moments here and there, and a few complete songs. "The Great Divide" was definitely my favorite track on the album.