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Album Review

As a general rule, taking six years off and completely shuffling the lineup of your band isn't a great recipe for comeback success. Then again, general rules don't always apply. And that seems to be the case with Breaking Benjamin's fifth album, Dark Before the Dawn.

Frontman Benjamin Burnley is the lone remnant of the band's lineup from its last effort, 2009's Dear Agony. But Breaking Benjamin's fans apparently kept the fires burning, because Dark Before the Dawn sold 135,000 copies its first week—more than recent albums by Madonna and Kelly Clarkson, to put that number in perspective.

If Breaking Benjamin's lineup has changed, however, its sound and messages certainly haven't. Light and dark swirl in nearly equal measure on each moody, post-grunge song, just as the album's title hints at. The conflict between those two forces is often framed in spiritual terms, with prayer, faith and heaven on one side battling darkness, despair and the devil on the other.

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"Ashes of Eden" offers this plaintive prayer: "Are you with me after all?/Why can't I hear you?/Are you with me through it all?/Then why can't I feel you?" Despite those spiritual struggles, Burnley prays, "Stay with me, don't let me go/Until the ashes of Eden fall." Elsewhere, the song ponders, "Will the faithful be rewarded/When we come to the end?" and wonders soberly, "Will I miss the final warning/From the lie that I have lived?" "Defeated" finds the singer locked in another spiritual battle: "As I fight for one last prayer, I keep holding on/ … As I drag the devil down, I will stand alone/No longer defeated."

"Angels Fall" vows, "I can't give up, I can't give in/When all is lost and daylight ends/I'll carry you and we will live forever, forever." "Hollow" exhorts, "Stay alive," then encourages, "Heaven holds a place for us tonight." "Close to Heaven" promises, "I'll keep love together/And I'll be yours forever/I'll sleep close to heaven." "Never Again" longs to "bring the broken back to life," tells a fellow struggler "we'll make it through," then adds, "Never again, never again/Time will not take the life from me." "The Great Divide" mostly focuses on faith and prayer: "So I'll wait for you/As I keep your faith alive/And I'll pray for you/As we cross the great divide." Elsewhere in that song, Burnley says of his willingness to sacrifice for someone, "And I'll break for you/ … And I'll stay for you."

"Breaking the Silence" laments having lived a "fake, plastic life, full of wasted years" because of "love lost inside, diabolic fear." Burnley also identifies with others' struggles when he sings, "I'm breaking the silence, I'm falling apart for you/ … I'm chasing the righteous, becoming a part of you."

Objectionable Content

Despair and spiritual capitulation haunt "Angels Fall": "I try to face the fight within, but it's over/ … I'm caught beneath with nothing left to give, forever." "Close to Heaven," a positive song in most other ways, repeats this unsettling line: "So I'll stay unforgiven." In similarly vexing spiritual territory is a lyric in "The Great Divide" that says, "Heaven won't help us now."

"Bury Me Alive" is one of the album's bleakest songs. "Light the way and let me go (suffocate inside)," Burnley tells someone. "I will break, and watch you crawl/Bury me alive/Bury me alive/Bury me alive." A bitter disappointment on "Hollow" finds the singer telling someone who's apparently abandoned him, "Love left me hollow/I'm with you in the end/Cold, crippled and shallow/Don't leave me here again/I can't go on."

Album closer "Defeated," despite clinging to determination in the end, nevertheless exhales deep discouragement when Burnley sings, "Forgotten and betrayed/We all fall down, the pain goes on/No better than before, still broken and afraid."

Summary Advisory

The opening track, "Failure," illustrates Breaking Benjamin's paradoxical tendency to focus almost equally on the tension between life and death, hope and despair. We get lines like, "Life will come our way/It has only just begun/ … Look for the light that leads me home," followed by lyrics such as, "We bury the sunlight, we bury the sunlight/Failure, failure."

Perseverance and pain, then, go hand in hand here. The former often seems linked to frequent faith references that salt these songs. (Burnley has mostly been reticent about his faith in interviews, though band members past and present have been more open about theirs). As for the latter, well, listening to Benjamin Burnley describe his struggles for nearly a decade, it's not hard to see how things might feel pretty dark for him at times.

In a recent interview with loudwire.com, he says that past struggles with alcoholism led to an ongoing battle with mysterious, painful symptoms back in 2007. "I’m still extremely sick after getting the same answers from some 300 doctors: ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with you.’ … I can only speculate that it was caused by excessive drinking. I used to be an alcoholic and I stopped drinking in 2007 because I got sick. … It feels like I’m being poisoned, electrocuted and spun around all at the same time. I’m in constant agony and torture and I also have severe joint and muscle pain.”

Burnley suggests that music offers one way to cope with his debilitating pain: "If I’m dizzy onstage, it’ll push me even harder." And I think it's safe to say that this singer's battle with "constant agony" permeates the lyrics he writes as well. There's hope and grit aplenty on Dark Before the Dawn, very likely inspired by Christian faith. Still, that dawn is never too far removed from the darkness that precedes it. And depending on what frame of mind a young listener is in, either message could ultimately seem to be the dominant one here.

Plot Summary

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Debuted at No. 1.

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June 23, 2015

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Adam R. Holz

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