11 Years Ago: Breaking Benjamin Come Clean With ‘Dear Agony’
After three successful albums that spooled out over the 21st Century's first decade, Breaking Benjamin sought to finish out the oughts on a high note. On the surface they did, but by the end of the Dear Agony cycle run, things started to splinter within the group.
Coming off the Phobia album, a record that revealed and explored some of singer Benjamin Burnley's various fears, the band began writing in 2008 for their fourth release. A significant change during the writing sessions was that Burnley revealed that it was the first album he had written completely sober.
The singer told Billboard that he had worked as a "functioning alcoholic" throughout his career, and had also developed neurological problems as a result. "I've suffered permanent brain damage through alcoholism," explained the vocalist at the time. "I don't want to say that I'm proud to have stopped, but I'm glad I realized that I wanted to stick around for a while."
After he quit drinking, Burnley decided to use his struggles and recovery for themes within the record. The vocalist stated, "All the tests and hospital visits stick with you, so I thought the scan was an effective image to use. It was a dangerous situation to be in . . . thankfully, I was able to reflect what was going on in my life within the music."
The album cover for Dear Agony is actually a scan of Burnley's brain, with the singer telling The Weekender, "It's just going along with these issues that I have to deal with. They're mainly, besides like chronic fatigue syndrome, there's a couple of neurological disorders that I have that stem from alcoholism, so that's kind of the whole Dear Agony theme."
He elaborated on the themes of the album, explaining that after being fairly private through most of his career, he wanted to be more open about what was going on with his life. "It’s personal to a certain degree because I write it and it has to come from somewhere. I want it to be known I’ve been suffering with some debilitating things for years, and it’s become such an impedance on my life now that I can’t help but have it come through in the music that I write," said Burnley. "It does affect me in some ways on a performance level and on an availability level and things like that, so I’m kind of glad that it’s finally coming to be known and that I can use the album as kind of a platform to let it be known, basically just trying myself to take a bad thing and make something useful out of it."
The singer wasn't alone in translating his message. In a bit of foreshadowing, Burnley called up RED guitarist Jasen Rauch to write with him on the record, with the songs "Without You" and "Hopeless" coming out of their session, as well as the outro for the hit single "I Will Not Bow" and some additional writing on "Lights Out" taking place.
"Jasen and I are two of the same mind in a lot of ways, especially writing, and he just basically writes songs how I would like them to be written and writes songs that I would want to write myself," Burnley told The Weekender.
With a new record written, Breaking Benjamin entered the studio, once again using David Bendeth to produce the album. On Sept. 29, 2009, Dear Agony dropped, buoyed by the success of the lead single "I Will Not Bow."
The defiant rocker gave the band another uplifting anthem and the song got an extra boost when it was tied to the movie Surrogates. While not specifically written for the movie, Disney had reached out to Hollywood Records for a Breaking Benjamin song, with "I Will Not Bow" being chosen from the material Burnley sent over. The track, which speaks to standing strong in your determination when all may seem lost, connected with listeners. It hit No. 1 at Mainstream Rock Radio, No. 5 on the Alternative Songs chart and crossed over to hit No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of their biggest hits to date.
Breaking Benjamin, "I Will Not Bow"
Following the pulsing energy of "I Will Not Bow," Breaking Benjamin switched it up with the rock ballad, "Give Me a Sign." The heartstring tugging track had Burnley singing of reaching for a ray of hope amidst a deteriorating relationship, trying to stay upbeat. Though not as huge as its predecessor, the song did hit No. 6 for Mainstream Rock and No. 10 on the Alternative Songs chart, giving the band a successful follow-up.
Breaking Benjamin, "Give Me a Sign"
One more single would come from the album. With some pulsing low end and a tension-building guitar riff, "Lights Out" hit the airwaves. Burnley exorcised some of his own demons, singing about the "monster in your head" that leads to negative behavior. The powerful cut hit No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
Breaking Benjamin, "Lights Out"
The band hit the road, touring with Three Days Grace, Rauch's band RED, Nickelback, Shinedown and others during their support of Dear Agony. They gave the album a pretty extensive look in concert, with the slow-ebbing title track, the dark rocker "Fade Away," the hopeful "Without You" and the solemn "Anthem of the Angels" all making set lists during the touring cycle.
But as the calendar hit 2010, several problems were lying in wait. In March of 2010, the band's label reached out for two new songs, and sought to release a version of the track "Blow Me Away" with newly added guest vocals by Valora singer Sydnee Duran. The request led to a divide in the group that proved to be a breaking point for Burnley.
In early June, the band canceled a performance in Vancouver, reportedly "due to illness." Not long after, rumors began to circulate of a potential split, with Burnley later posting on the band's website, "I am officially letting everyone know that Breaking Benjamin has NOT broken up!"
Nearly a year later it was revealed that guitarist Aaron Fink and bassist Mark Klepaski had granted the band's label permission to record the new version of "Blow Me Away" with Duran, which was eventually included as a single on the band's Shallow Bay hits collection. Not long after the pair granted permission on the song, both members were fired from the group via e-mail.
A legal battle then ensued over the rights to the name, with Burnley demanding compensatory and punitive damages over "Blow Me Away." By the time everything was settled a couple of years later, Burnley remained the lone original member of Breaking Benjamin. After Burnley's legal victory, drummer Chad Szeliga exited the group as well citing creative differences, leaving the singer to replenish the ranks in order to continue his career under the Breaking Benjamin banner.
As Burnley formed his new group, he called upon Rauch, whom he'd written with for Dear Agony, to be the new guitarist. Rauch had exited Red in 2009, but continued to write for the group until he became part of the new Breaking Benjamin lineup alongside guitarist Keith Wallen, bassist Aaron Bruch and drummer Shaun Foist.
Though Dear Agony proved to be the end for most of Breaking Benjamin's lineup, the album fared quite well. It outsold the predecessor Phobia, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It also went on to become a platinum selling album, and yielded a trio of tracks that remain essential cuts in the band's catalog.
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