Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage

Written by: BL on 14/08/2009 18:45:33

This is probably a band that needs no introduction to most of you, having been around for more than 10 years. Considered one of the early flagbearers of the metalcore genre, with their meteoric rise to fame in the underground (because of "Alive Or Just Breathing" and the follow-up "The End Of Heartache"), they helped pave the way for an army of metal fans not only no longer entrenched in the older traditions of serious faces, elitist attitudes and leather trenchcoats, but more importantly of a younger generation. Interestingly the band have decided to confuse just about everybody everywhere by making their latest effort self-titled, and it is a little bit of a conundrum since their very first album was self-titled as well. In many ways this is symbolic of the path Killswitch perhaps wanted to take (other than wanting to cause confusion). Feeling it was time for a fresh start after putting out "The End Of Heartache Vol.2" also known as "As Daylight Dies", the band sought to co-produce the album for the first time with Brenden O'Brien as well as Adam, their guitarist (who produced all the last records).

And there are some very notable sonic changes right from the offset. In the past, with Adam at the production helm, there was always a slick, clear and super glossy production where everything shined and sparkled under the light and there was enough musical layering for a band with 6 guitars. However here there is a distinctively raw, dirty and grainy finish - with plenty of punch especially during the opening barrage of rhythm chords which jump into a pseudo-breakdown riff (they don't play real breakdowns) in the crunchtastic "Never Again". While you can argue that it is hard to hear some of the layering and that everything gets a little muddy, I didn't find it all that bothering as this new production still manages to sound kickass just as much as the old production. Everything sounds familiar yet new and refreshing - like reinterpreting your favourite story (without butchering it of course).

Now, I have huge respect for this band because they don't compromise on the fun factor and despite what you can say about what they play - as musicians they're as good as anybody in the business (we even get another tasty guitar solo on the opener, a rare treat for fans). Adam and Joel are perhaps one of my favourite duo for guitar licks - ear opening stuff that is catchy and accessible enough not to sound pretentious and wander into ego-building territory ("Take My Away" has a simply rifftastic intro). Mike D has always been solid and competent in the bass department though still confined by the metalcore rule book of following the other instruments. However you will most definitely make him out unlike some of the Sturgiscore albums I've been listening to of late.

Sometimes the band was deceptive on the older albums, because the music can sound so simple (though I will bet if you ever tried to play any of their songs you'll know that they aren't always that easy); and I will single out Justin the drummer because he always sported such a minimalist style before, which was easily and wrongfully mistaken for a lack of skill. Shadows Falls vocalist Brian Fair once commented: "Justin is a master of subtlety and does a lot of things drummers and musically in-tune listeners pick up on", and being a metal drummer isn't always about "brutality and smashing", something I would wholeheartedly agree with. But it seems apparent that his inner beast has been finally unleashed, and throughout he displays far more flair than most casual listeners knew even existed. Just check out his blast beat chops on "Reckoning" (which were hinted at with a bonus track on the last album) and throughout you will find a much more varied array of interesting fills and patterns - like the start of "I Would Do Anything". There is still a trademark essence to his play though, mainly his ultra tight precision execution and his ability to somehow find the perfect rhythm pattern to whatever is being played on top - never any extra pointless hits and no random tom pummeling sessions.

Howard has improved considerably on this album as a vocalist and displays a wider range in all areas (in particular his catchy melodic croons). And for the first time in his band career he has been given full vocal responsibility, which may disappoint anyone who has been a fan of Adam's occasional vocal contribution but it does mean Howard gets to be more impressive in his absence. "The Return" may seem like a typical Killswitch ballad, but looking deeper, Howard really impresses with his execution of not only his anthemic chorus, but his subtle parts, too, which in the past occasionally lacked any heartfelt conviction. Also on most songs you will be able to hear much stronger vocal harmonies, which really adds bounds of strength and depth and certainly made me surprised to think why had they not been employed on earlier albums.

Lyrically on the last few outings Horward's approach has always been to follow in the footsteps of Jesse (ex-vocalist) before him, in that the words are meant to be uplifting and inspiring, while adding his own ingredient which is to soothe broken hearts ("The End Of Heartache" - ahem). Understandably the band has been criticised for playing "pussy metal" and for trying to excessively appeal to the sad, angst ridden teenager. Here essentially not a lot has changed, but Howard has been told to expand in any way he wants - to sing with no restraint. The result is a few more darker songs and in particular "This Is Goodbye" where you find lines like:

"I have no mercy, This place is overwhelming, Once again I could last, I see no way to be free, I search for the answers, Is there no solution?

I realize my reflection, My reflection is the demon"

Not exactly something to feel positive about, and also not exactly reaching for new source material, but at least for once there is a more personal and mature connection to Howard unlike his rather more broad, general, and even sometimes "ambiguous" lyrics of the past albums. Suffice to say if you disliked what Howard sang about before then you still won't like it now. There is also some work to do to match the sheer pain and heart Jesse conveyed so well when he sang for the band.

If I were to look for other flaws, the band isn't really going to convert any haters for their general content. While it isn't as safe an album as the last one - it still seems unable to step out of the mainstream mould (incidentally and ironically made by themselves): songs tend to have predictable structures, but I am willing to overlook this simply for how good their delivery is (and always has been compared to the endless wave of rip-offs and clones) and besides, since this is their highest charting release to date, their formula is obviously still working. I would personally let "Killswitch Engage" out-edge "As Daylight Dies", because this album is a lot more varied and engaging on repeated listens, but it still falls short of the impact "The End Of Heartache" had and I doubt anything will be as groundbreaking as "Alive Or Just Breathing" was for quite some time.

Certainly this band has years of life still to come and I believe they have plenty more to offer as well as areas still to improve on. As such I heartily give this a big recommendation (For those who want to go the extra mile, you can get the extended edition of the album where you get another track "In A Dead World" (good song) and 3 live recordings of some of their past hits :"Rose Of Sharyn", "My Curse" and "Holy Diver"), because if you like metal, or even rock, this is something most definitely deserving of a listen, as if I hadn't made it clear by how atrociously long this review is.

Download: Never Again, Starting Over, The Returns, This Is Goodbye
For the fans of: All That Remains, Shadows Fall, As I Lay Dying, Caliban
Listen: Myspace

Release date 30.06.2009
Roadrunner Records

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