Last week, a number of buzz-worthy albums — including the latest projects from promising pop starlet Tori Kelly, Grammy-approved country artist Kacey Musgraves and R&B newcomer Leon Bridges — were released. Breaking Benjamin laid the smackdown upon all of them.
Dark Before Dawn, the fifth album from Benjamin Burnley’s long-running post-grunge outfit, debuted at No. 1 on this week’s Billboard 200 chart, moving 141,000 equivalent album units in the week ending June 28 and accruing 135,000 in pure album sales, according to Nielsen Music. The latter number represents Breaking Benjamin’s best sales week ever (2009’s Dear Agony was the group’s previous high, with 134,000 copies in Week 1), and this week, the Hollywood Records act can toast its first No. 1 album.
The debut is eyebrow-raising for a number of reasons. First of all, 135,000 in pure album sales is a hefty number in 2015 — it’s a bigger number than the respective bows of recent Madonna, A$AP Rocky and Kelly Clarkson albums; Musgraves’ Pageant Material sold less than half of that (55,000 in pure album sales, per Nielsen Music) in the same first week, despite widespread press coverage. Also, Breaking Benjamin hadn’t released an album in six years, and returned with Dark Before Dawn as an entirely new group from its previous incarnation, aside from frontman Burnley. Over a half-decade of silence, the quartet from Dear Agony had morphed into a quintet with two new guitarists, a new bassist and a new drummer all backing the embattled singer-songwriter.
Putting aside the lineup change and extended hiatus, Breaking Benjamin was never a huge name outside of the mainstream rock world — 00’s hits like “So Cold,” “Breath” and “I Will Not Bow” dominated rock radio but never crossed over to Top 40 with the ease of, say, Imagine Dragons. “They’ve always been a top-level band for the format, but not quite on the level of Disturbed or Shinedown or bands like that,” says Joe DeTomaso, program director at Syracuse active rock station WAQX-FM. “They always seem to put out hit records without getting the kind of recognition that they deserved.”
So how did Breaking Benjamin go from underdogs to champions? Cooking up a huge comeback hit certainly helps: “Failure,” Dark Before Dawn‘s lead single, has been anything but, currently in its eighth week atop the Mainstream Rock Songs chart. That marks the group’s longest run at No. 1 on the chart, surpassing the seven-week penthouse stay of 2007’s “Breath.”
Perhaps more importantly, “Failure,” which was released last March, does not hint at Breaking Benjamin’s rearranged lineup — Burnley is still leading with soft melodies in the verses and an anthemic alt-metal chorus. “Failure” has drawn in longtime fans by falling in line with the group’s past hits.
“It’s just Ben at this point with a brand new band, and you wonder if that’s going to change the sound at all, but it didn’t,” notes DeTomaso. “We were wondering how people would perceive the band when they first announced that they were coming back. Did [fans] really care anymore? Were they away too long? Obviously not. The response has been overwhelming. We’ve had the song in power rotation for well over a month now, and there’s been zero burn.”
For Robbie Snow, SVP of global marketing at Disney Music Group, the success of “Failure” is an important part of the Dark Before Dawn rollout, but not the whole story. As Breaking Benjamin began promoting the album by performing headlining shows and festival dates earlier this year, Hollywood Records was pleasantly surprised to see the huge crowds being drawn by the veteran act, and realized that they might be in for a big first week.
“It was amazing to see those pre-order numbers to be where they were, and the commitment from those fans,” says Snow. “It wasn’t like there was a big lead-up to [the album release] in terms of messaging to the fans, but Ben has been dedicated, came with a record that was consistent with what he’s made before, and found them waiting. There’s a thirst for rock.”
Indeed, Dark Before Dawn‘s big bow might be best explained by this idea: rock bands still sell albums. This year has already included No. 1 album debuts from Muse, Florence + The Machine, Imagine Dragons and Fall Out Boy, and although the numbers aren’t as big as they used to be, rock fans are proving to be dedicated to buying an entire new project in its opening week of release.
The brass at Hollywood Records — a label best known for pop acts like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus — is aware of this trend, and is now celebrating its first No. 1 rock album thanks to a long-term investment in Breaking Benjamin. “I think they’re very proud and humbled,” says Snow of the band. “To me, it’s a great indication of the health of rock music.”