Some would argue BEN BURNLEY is a perfectionist. But for BREAKING BENJAMIN’s singer, guitarist, and visionary, there is no other modus operandi for his craft. With that dedication, BURNLEY and his bandmates–guitarist AARON FINK, bassist MARK JAMES, and drummer CHAD SZELIGA–have built 2006’s meticulous, infectious hard rock milestone PHOBIA (Hollywood Records). Building on their trademark hard-charging rhythms, sharp hooks, and soaring vocals, PHOBIA marks BREAKING BENJAMIN’s third album.
For BURNLEY, who typically writes at least 10 songs to yield one, the arduous approach has helped BREAKING BENJAMIN elevate the bar in following up 2004’s explosive platinum-selling We Are Not Alone, which produced a pair of compelling #1 rock hits, “So Cold” and “Sooner Or Later.” “It’s a very time-consuming thing,” BEN admits of his efforts to top the band’s airwave favorites. “I’ll basically write a number of similar songs and cherry-pick the best pieces from all of them and make one.”
With PHOBIA, which confronts anxiety and fear through catharsis and breathtaking melodies, the fruits of BURNLEY’s conviction can first be heard on “The Diary of Jane” –the first single and video–just one in a number of ferocious and hook-injected offerings on the band’s third album. As muscular as it is accessible, “Jane” has the power to invade one’s headspace, and occupy it for days.
Yet BREAKING BENJAMIN’s namesake didn’t always think so highly of PHOBIA’s first single. “Ben is his biggest critic,” bassist MARK JAMES acknowledges. “He’ll write stuff that is undeniable. And everyone else knows it’s undeniable. But he’ll think it’s not good enough and he’ll go back to the drawing board. With ‘The Diary of Jane,’ he had three or four different options lyrically and melodically before we even entered the studio. He had all of these variations that he presented to [producer] David [Bendeth]. And as is the case nine out of ten times, it’s almost always his initial gut feeling that wins out.”
BURNLEY’s instincts have guided BREAKING BENJAMIN from the bars and clubs of Wilkes-Barre, PA to a platinum album certification, all in the course of five years. On the strength of the quartet’s first hit, “Polyamorous,” from its 2002 major label debut Saturate, the group’s alt-metal leanings–inspired by the likes of Tool, KoRN, and Nirvana–earned the band prompt recognition.
With the aforementioned radio darling We Are Not Alone (which also contained the memorable ballad “Rain”) the group aligned with producer David Bendeth to forge a partnership that only grew stronger by the time work on PHOBIA commenced in early 2006. “We knew what to expect,” BURNLEY says. “We knew what he’d want out of us and knew what we’d want out of him.”
“Mark, Chad, Aaron, and Ben gave this record everything they had, worked their asses off and never settled for second best,” David Bendeth says proudly of BREAKING BENJAMIN’s new material. “The melodies are strong and memorable and we all feel it is a lot stronger than anything they’ve ever done. I worked BEN hard and he pushed himself. He has such a great instinct for lyrics and melody. He really knows what he wants and he never ceases to amaze me. He has a natural talent, a gift.”
That gift is evident in “Evil Angel.” which has a vibe akin to Alice in Chains, replete with AARON’s expressive, thunderous riffs giving way to a newfound rootsy, organic approach. Elsewhere, “You” finds the band operating in a rarely-used standard tuning, and relying on the highly capable rhythmic wares of MARK and drummer CHAD–who only recently joined the group but is an obvious ideal fit. “It was back to basics for us,” MARK says of the latter. “It’s so direct, more simple than usual. It’s definitely more of a feel than anything else propelling that song.”
The sonic epic “Dance With The Devil” also stands out as AARON’s fluid, forceful guitar lines and monumental drumming ideally interface with the power and range of BURNLEY’s voice. And despite his heartfelt delivery of lines like “I believe in you/I can show you that,” Ben pauses when it comes to talk about his deeply personal verse.
“I want the listener to analyze my songs,” he says. “I don’t want to do it myself. If someone thinks the song is about something and I come along and say, ‘No. The song is about this.’ I could ruin it for them.”
One thing that won’t be damaged at this point is the infrastructure of this band, helped by a newfound openness. “One thing in the past that affected us in a negative way was that we didn’t always speak our minds,” MARK says. “We’d keep stuff bottled up. And then maybe we’d feel regret or resentment. This time around, we made a point to say what we’re feeling.”
Finding a balance between enjoyment and ambition, BURNLEY thrives by challenging himself on PHOBIA. “I’m doing things vocally that I haven’t done before and we’re using different time signatures and tunings that are new for us,” he says. “I look at evolution this way: Every time you write a song, it’s one less thing that you can do. Of course there is always pressure to at least match what you’ve done before, but there is nothing I can do about it other than write the best possible songs I can.”
“I’m really proud of these songs,” MARK says. “BEN has done a fantastic job providing great hooks and phrases. I feel very strongly about every track on this record, which isn’t something I was always able to say. I think we really tried to approach every song by never trying to overstate an idea. If there was a catchy riff that AARON was doing, I never wanted to step on it. I’d try to seek a different way around it.”
Thinking outside the box, the men of BREAKING BENJAMIN have faced down their fears, put their hearts and their heads together to woodshed PHOBIA. Regardless of whether you’re afraid of heights, snakes, bees, air travel or whatever, this stellar song-cycle pays big dividends. Summing up BREAKING BENJAMIN’s new album, the band’s bassist concludes, “The goal was to make a solid, mature and cohesive record.”
Mission accomplished. PHOBIA is a damn-near faultless rock album.
Jumat, 03 Juli 2009
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