(TheMadIsraeli turns in this review of the new album by a revitalized Killswitch Engage.)
I’m going to be getting back to the br00tz here in a minute, but we need to take a moment and reflect on an album I think would be a shame to go on without mentioning here.
Everyone should know who Killswitch Engage are by now; they’ve become something of a household name and are the flag bearers of the early metalcore movement. I’ve written about KSE once before, when I started my series on my top 20 albums of all time and covered the band’s acclaimed and treasured sophomore effort Alive or Just Breathing. That album, as well as the band’s lesser known S/T debut, had energy, passion, and (at the time) a fresh combination of sounds that really served as a gateway into metal for thousands of listeners. In my case, metalcore was what really motivated me to explore the spectrum of metal, due to the diversity its early proponents incorporated into their sounds.
Killswitch Engage have had an uneven career since the departure of original vocalist Jesse Leech. Not only did they lose an iconic modern-metal front man, the replacement they acquired (Howard Jones) left much to be desired in the eyes of many fans who had been around since the self-titled debut. As one of the people who were really disappointed with Jones, I can tell you that in comparison to Leech, many early fans felt he was technically excellent but lacking in the raw power, intensity, and commitment conveyed by Leech’s vocals.
(photo by Tom Bejgrowicz)
This change spilled over into the music, and the lyrics, which saw KSE transform from being innovators and trail-blazers into their own parody. The End of Heartache was good, I guess, but the songs just weren’t as consistently good or as well-crafted as what came before. It was dismaying to see that it would be the Jones-era KSE who would really take off.
Yeah, the band has had strokes of genius since then. The best album they did with Jones was probably As Daylight Dies, the closest step in achieving their former glory, but it still wasn’t good enough, especially in the light of a blasphemously named follow-up Killswitch Engage II, which showed the sound of the Jones-era KSE at the end of its rope.
I won’t spend much time going over what’s happened since then — I think it’s safe to assume you know that Jones is out, and Leech is back in. This of course begs the question, was there really a correlation between Leech’s presence on the first two albums and the spark that ignited the raving devotions of so many so long ago? After listening to the band’s eagerly anticipated new album Disarm the Descent, I would have to say that yes indeed there was, because this is the best album, bar none, since KSE’s early work. This is a faster, stronger, more committed Killswitch than have been heard in years.
This is also much heavier than any of the Jones output, showing an amazing commitment to blistering, pulverizing attacks while still retaining the hook-driven force for which this band have always been known. This is made immediately apparent in the opener “The Hell in Me”, with its scorching, blast-beat-driven opening. The song immediately brings back to mind the kind of empowering stomp that made songs such as “My Last Serenade” and “Life to Lifeless” so good. Everything from its dissonant rise and crash verse, to its anthemic chorus has a definitive “Killswitch Engage is back” stamp on it.
The band also display more of the textured melodic style that was found on the album Adam Duckewicz and Leech did under the Times of Grace moniker with songs such as “Beyond the Flames” and “A Tribute to the Fallen”, while still maintaining the KSE thrash-based intensity, and yet these songs still manage to be more engrossing than the heavier Jones material.
And don’t be misled by those songs into believing that album lacks the kind of cuts that get the blood rushing, because Disarm the Descent is mostly full of those. Stand-out songs such as “New Awakening”, “All That We Have”, “The Call”, and “No End in Sight” should really put people back in the perspective of 2001, when Alive Or Just Breathing was out.
It’s really what the band have done with their sound on this album that makes it stand out. This is a definite return to KSE’s thrash and hardcore roots. While tastefully incorporating some of the Jones-era stylings when appropriate, it does so in a way that allows Leech to run with them vocally, proving that he was always the better vocalist. His vocal lines, his tonality, the inflections with which he delivers his lyrics, they all scream of a man 100% into his music.
Adam Duckewicz and Joel Stroetzel have churned out a bucket of riffs that truly encapsulate, guitar-wise, what put this band on the map: an efficient balance of technicality and simplicity, the fine tuning of mixing up the hooks and the haymakers, and some downright badass solo work with quite a bit of fun behind it. The rhythm section of Mike D’Antonio’s bass and Justin Foley’s impeccable drumming is also a standout.
You either loved this band or you didn’t, and this album won’t change the minds of anyone who never liked them to begin with. However, if you were one of the passionate original fans, I think this album will pleasantly surprise you.