Dear Agony is the latest release from the alternative rock-metal band Breaking Benjamin. Bringing the band to a total of four studio albums, Dear Agony continues where the boys left off from their success with Phobia in August 2006. Phobia was the band’s major breakthrough album, boasting their biggest hits, “Breath” and “Diary of Jane,” which went on to be the number one and two hits on Billboard, an accomplishment that none of their previous singles had managed to achieve. The new album is very similar to Phobia, maybe even too similar. It is as though the Pennsylvania group have found their first-place winning formula and are refusing to let it go. So although Dear Agony might be a first-rate success, it lacks creativity, and shouldn’t a new album have something new about it?The songs on the album are melodious and catchy. Ben Burnley continues his “me versus you” animosity and once again explores his usual themes: agonies of love, suffering, living to die another day, and being cold and broken. The songs become addictive, not only because of how relatable they are, or their memorable choruses, but because they are filled with great hooks and interesting bridges and lead-up sections. There is also an effort put forth to introduce inventive guitar riffs. So even though the album fails to deliver progression and maturation from the previous releases, almost every song on it is a winning piece in itself—familiar, yet engaging. Dear Agony is also heavier than most of the band’s prior work, but most of the songs are still radio-friendly rock singles.The first single, “I Will Not Bow,” is infectious with its haunting melody and hardcore guitars. Like the other tracks on the album, Burnley sings using an effective vocal interplay between clean and harsh styles, moving in and out of pure metal and softer rock. The track secured the number one spot on iTunes Top 10 Rock Songs and was also on the soundtrack for the new Bruce Willis film, Surrogates, which is bound to win the band some more popularity. Since Dear Agony does not deviate from the band’s recipe to make songs, it is a good listen for those who have never heard Breaking Benjamin and want to find out what they are all about. The album will also engage the die-hard Breaking Benjamin fans that want what they have always got from the quartet. It only fails to impress people who are looking for something new, music buffs who feel that since the band members are now in their early 30s, they should be exploring new techniques, new approaches, or even new ideas and themes. The songs may as well have been from any of their preceding albums. They fail to surprise and lack originality.
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Standout Tracks:“Without You,” “What Lies Beneath,” “Give Me a Sign”
I would not recommend listening to the entire album in one shot, because it gets repetitive and boring and will take longer for the songs to grow on you. However, Dear Agony definitely has some of the band’s best pieces. Burney sounds as empathetic and passionate as ever and makes the music and lyrics creep under your skin. His soft and sensitive side still shines through his growling ferocity and, now with 11 years in the music industry, he still has plenty of juice.The album is another work of art from Breaking Benjamin, even if it seems like just another heartbroken portrait, painted in the same medium and hung in the same gallery. If this is what the boys do best, I suppose we should just enjoy it and let them rock it out, Breaking Benjamin-style.