A few weeks ago, I finally sat down and listened to Breaking Benjamin’s latest album Ember, and it has since become one of my favorite albums. Something fundamental clicked into place for me with this piece, and I’ve been trying for the last few weeks to unravel exactly what that is.
Bands that fall into the alternative metal, alternative rock, and post-grunge genres have been a staple of my musical tastes since I was old enough to choose for myself. Amidst all the shredding and screaming, I found the authentic expression of a deep-rooted ache—one I couldn’t quite put a finger on until I read Doug McKelvey’s “A Liturgy for Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why.” If you haven’t read it, you should absolutely go read the whole thing right now. Just in case your mouse is broken, or you’ve been assailed by a sudden onset of finger-paralysis, here’s an excerpt to show you what I’m getting at:
“There is so much lost in this world, O Lord,
so much that aches and groans and shivers
for want of redemption, so much that
seems dislocated, upended, desecrated,
Even in our own hearts
we bear the mark of all that is broken.
What is best in this world has been bashed
and battered and trodden down.
What was meant to be the substance has
become the brittle shell, haunted by the
ghosts of a glory so long crumbled that only
its rubble is remembered now.
Is it any wonder we should weep sometimes,
without knowing why? It might be anything.
And then again, it might be everything.”
Ah, yes. There it is.
I can’t tell you how much I resonate with the language of this liturgy. Dislocated. Upended. Desecrated. Unhinged. I once wrote in a poem, “The world is wrong / bent on its axle.” Yet, while many of us sense all that has not yet been redeemed and are filled with an understandable sorrow, that hasn’t been my reaction. I bear the mark of all that is broken. I see that what is best has been bashed, and battered, and trodden down. I sense the wrongness of the world, and it doesn’t make me sad.
It makes me angry.
Historically, the music I’ve found that manages to capture the tone and expression of that anger lacks the depth and discernment to make it meaningful. Christians are generally uncomfortable with anger; while sorrow and sehnsucht are largely recognized as signposts pointing toward the kingdom to come, rage receives no such consideration. At best it’s seen as an immaturity to grow out of and more often as a revelatory flaw in character.
This produces a scenario where those of us who feel anger at the broken world are forced to choose between music that encapsulates the feeling and music that comes from a place of deeper truth. We as Christians have created a cultural divide where the only music left to express such an undercurrent of rage is made by those who don’t understand why they’re angry. Most metal bands—along with their sister and sub-genres—are the musical embodiment of the rebel without a cause, grasping at insufficient explanations for the fury that fuels them and assigning it to whatever seems to meet the mark at the time. They skim across the surface, hitting on symptoms without ever addressing the disease, and leaving their listeners feeling understood but ultimately unfulfilled.
Into this gap stepped Breaking Benjamin.
With its reformation in 2014 with Dark Before Dawn, one of my already-favorite bands underwent a significant thematic shift, while retaining its traditional style and tone. Ember followed in 2018 and turned out to be the realization of something I have always longed for without even knowing it: the candid expression of rage from a foundation of spiritual truth.
I posit that sorrow and anger are merely two roads diverged in a wood, ultimately ending at the same destination. Some of us need to cry, but some of us need to scream.Shigé Clark
This album is the most honest depiction of loss and grief I’ve ever encountered. Rather than the soft, pseudo-salving tones of most grief-related songs, the interplay of music and lyrics in Ember drags the listener through a war zone—a gut-wrenching journey of light and darkness, cold and warmth, burial and resurrection. It paints the pict