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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