The story of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania’s modern hard-rock stars Breaking Benjamin sports some cruel symmetries, burnt bridges and just rewards. Leaving bona fide opportunity on the table in favor of a big gamble, original members Aaron Fink (guitar) and Mark James Klepaski (bass) left Lifer, a Korn- and Alice in Chains-inspired hard-rock band already signed to Universal, to join forces with Ben Burnley, a hometown songwriter in whom they fiercely believed. These leaps of faith seldom pan out, but this one time it did. The new band, Strangers with Candy, rechristened themselves Breaking Benjamin and immediately began a steady ascent from opener and up-and-comer to headliner and hitmaker, a staple of modern rock radio stations like our own WRRV.
Lifer’s eponymous 2001 major-label debut eventually proved to be a swan song as well. But let the record show that Lifer’s singer and songwriter Nick Coyle hardly went gentle into that good night. Coyle got signed again in 2005 with the band Drama Club, built a career as a commercial music composer and released an interesting and surprisingly quiet electro-rock solo record, Sound Makes Waves, in 2014. Good on him.
To position Breaking Benjamin in the modern rock milieu, start with the grunge progenitors that all modern hard-rockers share; add in a healthy dash of dystopian foreboding à la System of a Down; chop and form the heaviest guitars, bass and drums with super-tight glitch editing à la Korn, but without the hip hop undertones; layer space-rock guitar arpeggios and crunch riffs all the day long; make scary screams and growls with your voice every now and then; but most of all, make sure that each and every song comes equipped with a buoyant, radio-ready melody and silky harmonies. Song after song, it is no secret why this band has done as well as it has; Burnley’s tunes bear out Fink and Klepaski’s gamble at every turn.
But what came around went around. Burnley’s alcohol-related hiatus in the early 20-teens was followed by disputes, litigation, a row over an unauthorized remix and the firing of Fink and Klepaski. A renewed Burnley resurfaced with a new lineup and a heavy album, 2015’s Dark before Dawn. Meanwhile, storied veterans reaching their 40s in a young man’s game, Fink has turned up in Gentleman East (1,121 Facebook “likes” as of today, but a really neat and much-more-classic-rock-styled EP), while Klepaski joined the Vampire Factory and released a Gothy metal single, “We Are One.”
Gentlemen, you all rock and should make peace soon, so you can enjoy the story together when you are old. But for now, the newly configured mothership tours on. Breaking Benjamin returns to the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie on Friday, September 11 at 8 p.m. as part of the WRRV 20th-anniversary concert series. General admission tickets cost $42.50 in advance, $45 on the day of the show. For tickets and more information, visit www.midhudsonciviccenter.org.
Breaking Benjamin. Friday, September 11, 8 p.m., $42/$45, Mid-Hudson Civic Center, 14 Civic Center Plaza, Poughkeepsie.