June 23, 2020 Grey Daze – Amends (Album Review)
In the spirit of #MakeChesterProud, Chester Bennington’s life-long friend Sean Dowdell has revived the pair’s 1990s Alt Rock band, Grey Daze, and, in doing so, brought the words and soul of the phenomenally inspiring vocalist back to life. There’s so much to be said, but most importantly: Loma Vista Recordings delivers Grey Daze’s Amends on Friday, June 26th, 2020.
Every single one of life’s journeys has to start somewhere. For Vocalist Chester Bennington, the first step toward his dreams of Rock stardom came in the form of Grey Daze. At just 15, the musician was brought into the Alt Rock garage band that was started in 1992 by Sean Dowdell (drums, backing vocals), who would become like a big brother to the “nerdy” teen. Together, the Phoenix-based quartet would go on to release two albums independently—1994’s Wake Me and 1997’s No Sun Today. Lacking the expertise and financial resources necessary to realize their vision, Grey Daze called it quits in 1998. In 1999, Bennington was acquired by the band that would be Linkin Park.
But no matter the months that passed or the geographic chasm between them, Bennington’s heart remained true to his friends and former AZ bandmates. Thus, in 2017, he personally announced a Grey Daze reunion on his social media. The story goes that, on the 20th anniversary of the release of No Sun Today, he had called Dowdell and suggested getting the band back together, playing a show, and re-recording some music. That gig was planned for October 20th, 2017. Though, as we all know, in July 2017, Bennington’s bright light had tragically faded.
It would take a year of soul-searching and emptiness, along with the blessing of Talinda Bennington, before Grey Daze would come together to honor their friend’s wishes and bring his dream of a reunion to fruition. “We’re going to make our friend proud, we’re going to make Chester proud,” Dowdell promised as he and Bassist Mace Beyers, along with newly recruited Guitarist Cristin Davis, sat down to re-work and re-record a collection of songs from their earlier releases.
Executive produced by the award-winning Jay Baumgardner (Papa Roach, Evanescence), along with production from a slew of other collaborators, the 11-track Amends aims to provide fans with the unheard chapter in Bennington’s origin story, all while providing a full circle moment for his friends. Speaking of those lives that Bennington touched so deeply, the collection is full of family and friends: the vocalist’s eldest son, Jaime Bennington, appears alongside the likes of Helmet’s Page Hamilton, KoЯn’s Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Schaffer, Breaking Benjamin’s Jasen Rauch, Bush’s Chris Traynor, P.O.D.’s Marcos Curiel, Julien-K and Orgy’s Ryan Shuck, and more.
Amends opens to “Sickness,” one of many angst-ridden tracks that serve as a haunting window into the past. While the drums and guitars maintain a crisper edge in the mix—including the guest work of Helmet’s Hamilton—this is perfectly understandable as Bennington’s vocals are over two decades old. However, all things considered, everything fits together perfectly, creating a track that represents an LP that bears the mark of the ‘90s but still sounds appropriately modern.
Showing the range in Bennington’s young vocals, “Sometimes” is an emotional plea for things to get better, for a positive uptick in life. The end result is a track centered around loss that, given the tragic circumstances, is apt to bring a tear to the listener’s eye. There’s time to take a cleansing breath as they slow it down with Beyers’ thick bass for “What’s In The Eye,” a song that glitters as it grows in tension, exploding into soaring, melodic choruses that display the power of one of the best vocalists in generations.
Next up, perfectly modern, electronic atmospherics set a pace for “The Syndrome.” There’s a slight effect added to Bennington’s vocals that creates an intimate echo as he questions happiness, all while his bandmates dig in and go full-throttle to display their own talents. Unfortunately, just as listening back to the pained howls of Kurt Cobain can shred the heart to pieces, hearing Bennington ask “Are you happy?” feels like a gut-punch.
Setting this aside, piano and vocals open the delicate ballad “In Time.” Here, the grit of Bennington’s youthful voice shows, standing as a reminder of how far his god-given talents progressed in his time on Earth. Meanwhile, macabre Alt Rocker “Just Like Heroin” undulates with more thick bass lines and Bennington’s whispery soft verses, bringing to mind the overdoses of Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Jonathan Melvoin, and Sublime’s Bradley Nowell.
Then there’s the perfect foreshadowing of what was to come with Linkin Park, as Bennington delivers those now-familiar Hip-Hop cadences on the verses of “B12”—now featuring KoЯn’s tag-team guitar duo of Welch and Schaffer—a song which the vocalist wrote when he was 12. Yes, 12! Perhaps the eeriest part of the track is its comfortable fit with our modern time, politically and globally speaking; serving as a frustrating reminder that no matter what you want to believe, the U.S. hasn’t changed all that much in the past three decades.
As the collection progresses, Bennington’s vocals continue to hold the spotlight for the moving piano and vocal pairing of “Soul Song,” which features son Jaime sharing vocal duties with his father, as well as guitar work from Bush’s Traynor. Jean Yves D’Angelo’s beautifully emotive piano work continues into the bittersweet “Morei Sky,” the track that lends the album its title. Here, Bennington soars alongside a delicate accompaniment as he passionately searches for a second chance. In a poignant moment, Davis’ guitar echoes the vocals as they fly together toward the heavens.
Next, they jump right in with an increased pace for “She Shines,” an atmospheric groover. As they approach the choruses and the entire band coalesces, the end result is a cinematic feel worthy of a new Underworld soundtrack. Ultimately, however, they opt to end with the melodic “Shouting Out,” a mid-tempo, radio-ready track that utilizes the gorgeous background vocals of Laura “LP” Pergolizzi to complement Bennington flawlessly. It’s a final caress of the heartstrings, ending the entire LP with a sweet but succinct voicemail from Bennington to Dowdell.
Nothing about Amends is slapped together. Each individual piece is layered with love and finesse, allowing the songs to shine as best that they can under the given circumstances. Sure, Dowdell could have brought in a cavalcade of marquee names to helm the vocalist position, utilizing his and Bennington’s lyrics while easily dismissing the challenges in working with pre-recorded, decades old vocal tracks. It’s a tribute to their friendship that, instead, he chose the more complicated path and allowed his little brother to speak for himself.
That said, while the natural reaction to the collection is to harp on the talents of Bennington, that is a disservice to his bandmates. With pain-staking detail put into their own work, the surviving members of Grey Daze have allowed the beloved vocalist to shine as they provide an impressive anchor for his performance. In this, despite the separation of time, the quartet function as a tight unit, everyone working in synchronicity to deliver the passion of their compositions.
So, as Davis once mused: “What would Chester think of this? Would he be okay with this?” Well, as a collection, Amends allows the vocalist to communicate with us once again through his music, so it’s hard to imagine Bennington offering any objections. Due to the care given by his former bandmates, the album is handled with the utmost respect and feels like a sincere tribute to a man whose incomparable additions to Rock music must never be forgotten. Therefore, if you’re a fan of Chester Bennington or 1990s Alt Rock, Amends feels like a necessity. Because of this, Cryptic Rock gives the album 5 of 5 stars.