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Breaking Benjamin

The question always arises concerning why a plethora of top-rated American pseudo post-grunge/alt-metal acts never sell over the pond. The answer might be in their insistence to sound derivative and to plough metallic fields to the point of saturation, a la classic-rock plagiarism. Case in point: NICKELBACK, HOOBASTANK and BREAKING BENJAMIN, post-millennium bands with a safe, commercial metal manifesto. It’s an all-too familiar pattern – competent metal without any originality. A million Americans will disagree, as will several Kerrang! readers, but take the earworm from your lobes and spread your musical wings.
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was where BREAKING BENJAMIN “originated” from; a quartet forged around singer/rhythm guitarist namesake Benjamin Burnley.
One can trace the band’s origins back to the dawn of the new millennium when the aforesaid Benjamin and LIFER bassist Mark James Klepaski (a replacement for Nick Hoover and Jason Davoli) teamed up with drummer Jeremy Hummel; incidentally LIFER’s lead guitarist Aaron Fink joined up soon after this band’s eponymous set crashed and burned, and a self-titled BB EP convinced Hollywood Records to take a punt. The story goes that local worthy/disc-jockey Freddie Fabbri bankrolled the group after rotating EP track, `Polyamorous’ which, in turn, gave the lads a chance to work with L.A.-based metal-core producer Ulrich Wild on their summer 2002 debut album, SATURATE {*5}. Described by reviewers as a hybrid of KORN and NICKELBACK, they’d thought it necessary to regurgitate 100% of the five EP tracks (i.e. `Home’, `Medicate’, `Water’ and `Shallow Baby’). Needless to say their early shoots of success were awry.
Despite this critical and commercial setback, and going one better than the ill-fated LIFER, BREAKING BENJAMIN subsequently checked into the Hot 100 via `So Cold’, the opening salvo from Top 20 gate-crasher, WE ARE NOT ALONE (2004) {*6}. If one could hear the unmistakable sound of BILLY CORGAN ringing in one’s ear that was down to the SMASHING PUMPKINS leader guesting/co-penning three numbers, `Forget It’, `Follow’ and `Rain’. If one could hear echoes of Maynard James Keenan that was because Ben’s delivery had the TOOL man down to a tee, so to speak.
Onwards and upwards after finding a fresh drummer in Chad Zseliga, both 2006’s PHOBIA {*7} and the sobering DEAR AGONY (2009) {*6} reached the Top 5. The respective David Bendeth-produced albums were bolstered by moderate hits, `The Diary Of Jane’ and `I Will Not Bow’, whilst the first of these sets also benefitted from a guest appearance by DROPPING DAYLIGHT’s Sebastian Davin.
As the phobia-plagued Burnley checked into rehab due to his alcoholism, BB band members dropped off like proverbial flies; Fink and Klepaski were fired in 2011 prior to a “Best Of” set featuring bonus re-treads of QUEEN’s `Who Wants To Live Forever’ and DEPECHE MODE’s `Enjoy The Silence’; Szeliga bailed two years later.
Nevertheless, a rejuvenated BREAKING BENJAMIN re-grouped in August 2014; Burnley roping in guitarist Jasen Rauch (ex-Red), second guitarist Keith Wallen (ex-Adelitas Way), bassist Aaron Bruch (ex-Forever Oeuvre) and drummer/percussionist Shaun Foist (ex-Picture Me Broken).
Summer 2015’s chart-topping DARK BEFORE DAWN {*6} proved the proverb “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and proved without doubt that singer Benjamin was not a man to be easily dismissed to the backburner of heavy metal history. Bookended by a brace of calm-before/after-the-storm tracks, `Dark’ and `Dawn’, there was indeed a backslide into a post-grunge sound; minor hit `Failure’ matched by the anthemic allure of `Ashes Of Eden’, `Defeated’ and the dramatic `Close To Heaven’.
Although sixth set, EMBER (2018) {*6} didn’t quite emulate its predecessor in chart status, the Top 3 record did manage to crack the UK Top 40 again. This feat was due as much to brooding Burnley’s fight back against his fear of flying phobia; thus the band were able to tour outside of North America. A little formulaic in its conceptual instrumental bookend approach (`Lyra’ and `Vega’), the ethos of the outfit was to stray never far from their angst-y metal; powerhouse pieces `Feed The Wolf’, `Red Cold River’ and `Close Your Eyes’, frenetic and forlorn to the nth degree.
Early 2020 saw BREAKING BENJAMIN drop an unusual set of re-imagined cuts under the title, AURORA {*6}. In fact this Top 30 set gave Burnley an opportunity to work alongside orchestral arrangements (not so much “unplugged”) and fellow post-grungers; namely RED’s Michael Barnes on `Failure’, COLD’s Scooter Ward on `Far Away’, UNDEROATH’s Spencer Chamberlain on `Red Cold River’, SAINT ASONIA’s Adam Gontier on `Dance With The Devil Never Again’ and FLYLEAF’s punk-metal front-girl Lacey Sturm on `Dear Agony’.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2020

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