"I Will Not Bow"
The alternative rock foursome known as Breaking Benjamin hails from Wilkes-Barre, Penn. And, if you’re wondering what the band’s slightly cryptic moniker means, well, it’s actually a reference to an early gig in which lead singer Benjamin Burnley kicked over a microphone stand and broke the mic.
The incident speaks to the aggressive posture that this post-grunge act (which counts Live, Bush, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots among its influences) still strikes four albums later.
"I Will Not Bow" is Breaking Benjamin’s highest-charting single to date, just, um, breaking into the Top 40. (Meanwhile, the album from which it came, Dear Agony, clocked in at No. 4).
If given a casual listen, the song seems to be a glass-half-full-glass-half-empty proposition. "I will not bow, I will not break," we hear in the chorus. "I will not fall, I will not fade." Those are positive sentiments—if taken in isolation from the rest of the song.
But it’s the rest of the song where things get more murky. The overall setting is one of encroaching, unnamed, apocalyptic doom: "Now the dark begins to rise/Save your breath, it’s far from over," Benjamin Burnley informs us.
Keep listening closely, and what initially looked like healthy determination actually begins to feel more like self-preservation at any cost ("Leave the lost and dead behind/Now’s your chance to run for cover"). Later, things get even more bleak: "Now the dark is taking over/Show me where forever dies." By the end, survival trumps anything that might be construed as hope ("I’ll survive, paranoid/I have lost the will to change").
One cryptic line references heaven ("Take the fall and run to heaven"). But it’s difficult to tell whether that’s a positive or negative reference to some kind of afterlife.
That interpretative uncertainty, it turns out, suits the band just fine. On Breaking Benjamin’s MySpace profile, Burnley speaks of his distaste for literal interpretations of the band’s songs. "It’s pointless to ask me what a song is about—it’s about whatever the listener feels when they listen to it. That’s what the song exists for," he says. "I don’t particularly like listening to songs that are very obviously about something unless its something really, really clever and cool."
That said, I think there is enough lyrical evidence here to resolve my initially conflicting assessment of "I Will Not Bow" and render a verdict: The glass is in fact half empty.