“No one ever really dies as long as they are loved.” – James O’Barr, December 2010
The unexpected and tragic loss of Chester Bennington has proven a terrible thing to face. Co-vocalist Mike Shinoda’s Post Traumatic, which was released in June 2018 in response to Bennington’s passing, offers some small insight into the slow, arduous journey toward whatever form of acceptance can be achieved. Fans of Linkin Park demonstrated their grief and adoration through tribute concerts and memorials for the beloved voice that rang throughout the last two decades and was cruelly silenced too soon. For Sean Dowdell, Mace Beyers and Cristin Davis of Grey Daze, Bennington’s original pre-Linkin Park band of the 90s, honouring Chester Bennington was to ensure his voice is heard clearly once again: to make Amends.
Before even thinking of continuing to work on something that now can never receive the artist’s blessing, the obvious immediate doubt must first be addressed: should this work be completed? Some will argue ‘no’, and it’s undeniably difficult to disagree with that argument, but for those that answer ‘yes’, it must be done so from a place of utmost respect.
Before the completion of 1993’s The Crow could even be considered by director Alex Proyas, following the similarly tragic loss of actor Brandon Lee, producer Ed Pressman commented on the following: “There was a serious question psychologically, and it really revolved around Proyas. Alex at first did not want to go on with the film. He was destroyed by the accident and so devastated he had no heart to continue. It was only because Eliza (Lee’s fiancée), and later the whole cast and crew, appealed to him that he started to consider it.”
Even with so many voices urging the completion of the film, The Crow could only ever be finished if it came from a place of utmost respect, and it is admirably clear that Alex Proyas recognised that. But to the director’s even further credit, Proyas clearly knew that it also needed to be more than that: it needed to come from a place of absolute love – the very same love that Sean Dowdell, Talinda Bennington and many, many more shared in the creation of Amends.
Whichever the chosen medium may be, a posthumous release will always be subject to a unique scrutiny. Compiling eleven original Grey Daze tracks from 1994’s Wake Me and 1997 release …No Sun Today, what is immediately apparent is how much Amends chooses to toe the cautious line between remaster and complete recreation, and a perfect starting point for this comparison can be found with the album’s third promotional single, ‘Sometimes’. Featuring additional contribution to the track’s instrumentation from Bush guitarist Chris Traynor and session keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac, ‘Sometimes’ is played through with more apparent inclination towards remastering the original, an approach equally shared by lead single ‘What’s In the Eye’.
Compared to album opener ‘Sickness’, a track that (with contribution from Helmet’s Page Hamilton) replaces much of the classic grunge guitar distortion of the era with huge swells of synthesisers and far subtler guitarwork, it may seem surprising at first for ‘Sometimes’ and ‘What’s In the Eye’ to have remained so firmly true to their 1990s counterparts. Now, make no mistake, these are still brand new instrumental performances utilising Bennington’s excellent original recordings of the 90s, but as the album mixes things up and experiments, Amends truly begins to shine.
Taking the understandably (and tastefully) renamed ‘The Syndrome’ as another perfect example, the original track is a near-harrowing display of Bennington’s ability in projecting raw, intense emotion. Through agonised delivery of lines such as “and you know how it feels to bleed some, to need some”, the original ‘Syndrome’ feels akin to most alt-metal/grunge acts of the time, but Amends’ 2020 iteration of the track? Quite simply, it’s superb. The introductory atmospherics are haunting. The gentle pitter-patter of clean guitarwork throughout the verses is both a beautiful undercurrent for Bennington’s delivery, whilst also reminiscent of Hybrid Theory’s ‘Pushing Me Away’ in a manner that feels wholly appropriate, and the following heavier guitar distortion-led choruses only reminds of just how fantastically Chester Bennington’s vocals could shift from soft to scorching in seconds.
Elsewhere, taking further advantage of Bennington’s far heavier delivery (and also offering something of a surprise, compared to the original version of the track), Amends’ ‘Just Like Heroin’ reshapes the original into something fierce. Completing the once acoustic song’s structure with a full band accompaniment, ‘Just Like Heroin’ successfully utilises Bennington’s multiple vocal takes of the era to excellent effect, even going so far as to feature some of the vocalists heaviest screamed vocals to date. In fact, it’s certainly worth noting simply how effectively Sean Dowdell’s team can display an inclination towards more metal influences throughout the album: there is little stopping the huge signature distortion of Korn guitarist Brian Welch’s guitarwork on ‘She Shines’ and (alongside fellow Korn guitarist, James Munky Shaffer) ‘B12’, boosting Bennington’s performances into far more aggressive territory.
Of course, especially taking the previously mentioned ‘The Syndrome’ into consideration, the Grey Daze team clearly know all too well how brilliantly Bennington’s delivery could evoke a superb range of emotion, and this rings all too true in the beautifully poignant ‘Soul Song’ (featuring Bennington’s son Jaime Bennington alongside his father on vocals) and the following ‘Morei Sky’. Taking things into softer territory compared to the original version of the track, ‘Morei Sky’s Amends incarnation switches out much of the guitar distortion to instead embellish Bennington’s performance with Jean Yves D’Angelo and Heidi Gadd’s superb piano and strings contributions, who feature on both tracks.
In summary, when listening through Amends, it’s hard not to consider what could have been. Those with a keen awareness of the Linkin Park vocalist’s former works (and knowing where to look for it) have always had access to what came before, so for Bennington to excitedly announce Grey Daze’s live reunion and even possibly release new material, it was a cruel blow to no longer look forward to what could have been. Despite a long, multi-faceted career with Linkin Park, exploring multiple genres and finding success in virtually all of them, it’s still wonderfully refreshing to remember how brilliant a vocalist Bennington was, even in his earliest recordings. Throughout the entirety of Amends, from ‘She Shines’, ‘Just Like Heroin’ to ‘The Syndrome’, Sean Dowdell, Mace Beyers and Cristin Davis offer a second chance in hearing the Grey Daze of old in a whole new light, done so with the utmost respect and love that Chester Bennington deserved.
Editors Note: “Amends” is out June 26th, 2020 via Loma Vista Recordings. The album was originally scheduled for an April 10th, 2020 release but has been pushed back due to the current circumstances going on in the world. The band will be livestreaming the record on it’s original release date (April 10th), and you can find more info here: https://greydazemusic.com/listening/