Written By: James Swigart
Label: Hollywood Records – Rating:
Benjamin Burnley shows exceptional vocal range and makes us deeply feel his emotions on Breaking Benjamin’s Dear Agony. Burnley is a nuanced and powerful singer on par with Robert Smith and Paul McCartney. On Dear Agony, Burnley frequently sounds like Bernard Sumner and Josh Caterer in both pacing and stamina. Burnley’s singing is much more passionate than Sumner’s, and makes us feel a visceral connection to him. This passion is felt on every track and especially on the brilliant “What Lies Beneath.”
Philip Anselmo himself would be proud of the guttural roars on Dear Agony. These roars are mixed excellently so they don’t assault us. Burnley’s vocals, his and Aaron Fink’s guitars, and Chad Szeliga’s drumming carry Dear Agony. Szeliga’s drumming is reminiscent of Vinnie Paul’s while Paul was with Pantera. The opening song, “Fade Away,” grabs, stuns, and awes us like we were by the first track, “Mean Street,” of Van Halen’s magnum opus Fair Warning. Dear Agony is a more complex work than the incomparable Fair Warning.
The second track, “I Will Not Bow,” features guitar effects that we first heard on the Smiths classic “How Soon Is Now?” We were mesmerized by the combination of guitar, vocals, and Szeliga’s slow, powerful drumming on the amazing, gorgeous, metal anthem “Crawl.” Burnley’s deep voice howls reassuringly, “I’m one step behind” repeatedly during “Crawl.”
Check out the video for “I Will Not Bow” on CWG TV.
“Hopeless” features staccato riffs that remind us of Pantera and of Metallica and, in case we forgot, that we’re listening to a band that likes to play guitar. Guitar undulates pleasantly at the bottom of and carries us through the bridge “Anthem of the Angels.” Staccato riffs again drive us at the beginning of “Lights Out.” One of Breaking Benjamin’s gifts on this album is their excellence in changing pace while keeping us surprised within a consistent overall sound.
“Into the Morning” is similar musically to and has the charging energy of “Fade Away.” The chiming guitar in “Into the Morning” is an unexpected treat like finding an $100 bill on a sidewalk. “Without You” reminds us of our need for others. During “Without You,” Burnley belts, “I can’t face the dark without you” with the masterful restraint that magically sucks us in and that is prevalent on Dear Agony.
Dear Agony, like AFI’s Crash Love, is extraordinarily well-paced and consistent, at least as consistent as Led Zeppelin IV or Boston. Dear Agony is less frenetic than Crash Love and features a vibe throughout that is welcome, calming, and refreshing. David Bendeth’s production is clean and perfect.
There are 11 songs on Dear Agony and the total length of the album is almost 42 minutes, a testament to Breaking Benjamin’s incredible maturity, complexity, musicianship, and passion.