This post contributed to Rock On Purpose by September Grace
Redemption is often shown in fiction as a clear-cut story: Point A to Point Fall-from-Grace to Point Happily-Ever-After. In so many stories–musically, cinematically, literarily–we gravitate toward sharp contrast redemptions. We want to see someone at rock bottom be stabilized, someone awful become someone good. If someone can travel from an extreme bad to an extreme good, then maybe, just maybe, there’s a redemption story for us too. Maybe, just maybe, if we find that sweet spot of a turning point, our physical, financial, mental, and spiritual issues will go away. We’ll have our own Happily Ever After.
But redemption is messy. Humanity’s heart itself is a mess of contradicting desires, beliefs, and convictions.
In 2015, Breaking Benjamin released Dark Before Dawn, their first album in six years. In 2018, they released their follow-up Ember. I’d liked Breaking Benjamin in the mid-2000s, but not enough to keep up with. Many of their unapologetically angry and honest songs hit too close to home for me; they resonated with my own anger at feeling like a rejected redemption story, and I wasn’t willing to face that anger yet. But, on a whim, I gave Dark Before Dawn a listen…and fell in love with their sound, their lyrics, their theme, their heart (confession: they are now the only artist I pre-order albums for).
In Dark Before Dawn, Breaking Benjamin sings about the rollercoaster of hope and despair, of anger and love, of striving to save and giving up for lost. More than anything, they sing about the weariness of hope, the relief of surrendering to the dark, yet choosing to fight for hope all the same.
These are uncomfortable topics, especially in Christian circles. For Christians, there is an unfortunate teaching that we must always be happy and optimistic. But a Christian’s joy and a Christian’s hope aren’t superficial; they are more than that. A Christian’s joy allows for grief. A Christian’s hope allows for sadness. Romans 12:15 says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Even for Christians, those who call themselves children of God, those who are already “redeemed,” their redemption story isn’t concluded, and chapters of their life will still have painful moments, months, years.
Dark Before Dawn paints a redemptive story, but not a clean-cut one. After the opening instrumental track “Dark,” track two, “Failure,” sets the stage of a lost, tired, and despairing heart. The heart in “Failure” seems to have lost all but a single spark of hope.
“Tired of feeling lost / tired of letting go / tear the whole world down.”
The spark of hope struggles to stay lit in the beginning of “Angels Fall” when the heart loses even more. But it finds reason to hold on and move forward. Even if it’s not rational, even if the heart is angry, it’s not giving up…it can’t give up, as giving up means there truly is nothing left.
“When angels fall with broken wings / 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.”
This pattern of hope lost then regained, of anger and bitterness fighting against the desire to love and cherish, continues throughout the next four tracks. Part two of the album begins with “Never Again,” where hope has taken the upper hand in the constant battle between despair and new beginnings.
“Never again / Time will not take the life from me.”
“Heaven above me / Take my hand / Shine until there’s nothing left but you.”
“Ashes of Eden”
“No longer defeated.”
Dark Before Dawn altogether depicts a loaded step in the redemption story: despair, almost hope, despair, anger, hope yet again, love, despair, but ending on the decision never to accept defeat. Breaking Benjamin’s follow-up album, Ember, follows a similar battle for the fate of the heart and soul, but with the flames of fight starting to burn brighter.
In Ember, the heart has begun to feel again. “Feed the Wolf” sings of repressed rage, addiction, violence, and the fear of so many powerful, negative emotions boiling to the surface. “Red Cold River” mourns the return of spiritual numbness after such a sharp emotional awakening. “Tourniquet” paints love as a powerful force that can save (“Love will tie the tourniquet“) and destroy (“and suffocate me“). “Psycho” returns to anger with a harsh, raw refusal to cover up the spiritual, mental, and emotional wounds just to achieve a fake mask of peace.
But where Ember truly progresses Dark Before Dawn‘s story is in “The Dark of You.” Breaking Benjamin could easily have continued the cycle of self-focused destruction and recovery. Instead, they show kernels of growth, of grace, and of an increased understanding of selfless love.
“Fade away to the wicked world we live / And I become the dark of you / Say a prayer for the wounded heart within / As I become the dark of you / …Save this selfish world.”
The next track, “Torn in Two,” continues the plea to the hopeless to “hold on / rise / hold on,” while “Blood” mourns the destruction caused by the very hate the heart once clung to. “Save Yourself” is a grief-stricken prayer for other hearts not to be deceived by the dark. And finally, “Close Your Eyes” is yet another prayer for the darkness to be taken away, to be filled with light, and to be renewed for the next battle in the journey.
Quite a bit of rock music includes some element of the redemptive journey. I think part of what makes rock music so attractive is its raw vulnerability to admit what it doesn’t know, have the courage to feel pain, and still seek answers. I imagine Breaking Benjamin will remain on my playlist for quite some time, and I can hardly wait to see what their next chapter holds.
September Grace is an aspiring novelist, book hoarder collector and movie watcher. She has a black feline floof named Faust, an assortment of plants that seek global domination, and a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment. You can learn more about September at nevermorelit.com.