Saturate is unpretentious, accessible and attainable.
It starts, like most nu-metal/post-grunge/angry and down-tuned rock albums, with a scream. More specifically, it starts with a soft static that steadily grows in volume, a windup to the scream’s pitch. A lot of these records start off this way: some ambiguous or atonal introduction to an oncoming battery of guitar riffage. Throughout the album, appropriate boxes are checked: quiet palm-muting on the verses contrasted with heavier hammering on the choruses. Virtuosic guitar solos are thin on the ground, although this isn’t always a bad thing. It doesn’t subvert expectations or break any new ground, but it does offer some sense of comfort in its predictability.
Breaking Benjamin’s Saturatewas released in 2002 at the tipping point of nu-metal’s popularity. Korn and Limp Bizkit were a few years past their breakouts, (Follow the Leader and Significant Other, respectively), and the market was getting saturated. There were a few standouts at the time–Staind and Godsmack showed promise of lasting power, and Slipknot are still undeniably going strong–but there was a glut of newer bands looking to share in the spotlight. Primer 55, Endo, Factory 81, Flaw, Dry Kill Logic, Pressure 4-5…a slew of acts, some of whom may still be going, that never reached the heights of their more famous scream-and-slay brethren. Always an opener, never a headliner.
Still, Breaking Benjamin stood out. Singles “Polyamorous” and “Skin” are radio-friendly tracks that could rotate any hour of the day. The choruses on Saturateare simultaneously heavy and catchy, opening them up to tour with both flavor of the week rock acts and their darker counterparts. It’s one part grunge, one part nu-metal, and a dash of nuanced studio texture.
It’s by no means a revolutionary album. It didn’t redefine any genres or reconfigure what it meant to be an alternative rock band so early in the new century. At best glance it’s a record of admirable songs; at worse, a grouping of fair yet passable quasi-metal sluggers. Likewise, the band looks like…a band. They didn’t wear masks, face-paint, or sport any other gimmick, aside from the requisite all-black outfits. Catch them outside a venue, and they could either be the band you were about to see or the bartenders serving during their sets.
This, however, neglects a large part of the appeal of Breaking Benjamin and their debut album. At its heart, it’s all about the accessibility. The record is unpretentious, accessible and attainable. Take a year’s worth of lessons, download some guitar tabs, and you too can play along to “Wish I May” and “No Games.” Catch them live and see up close what frets they hit, how the drummer pulls off the beats, and how lead singer Benjamin Burnley preps before bellowing out a scream. You might not be able to write songs as they do, but you can certainly tag along for the ride.
It’s easy to be cynical and say this was a dark period in rock music. Perhaps we’ve washed the aroma of nu-metal off of us (although Bring me the Horizon and Issues may have words about that). Still, we shouldn’t neglect the impact it had. Albums like Saturate made people smile, put guitars in hands, and started a new wave of bands loaded with kids who simply thought “I can do that.” It’s something we have to appreciate now, this perpetual cycle of “hear band–start band–others hear your band–repeat.” Think of it as the circle of life in well-worn Jnco jeans and frosted tips.