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Killswitch Engage

Tempered aggression, visceral vibes and complex combinations have always been the template for a fruitful melodic metal-core combo. In the already seasoned and intense KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, guttural grunter Jesse Leach (ex-Nothing Stays Gold and Ex-Corrin), axe-grinder Joel Stroetzel (ex-AFTERSHOCK), drummer Adam Dutkiewicz (also ex-AFTERSHOCK) and bassist Mike D’Antonio (ex-OVERCAST), fused every element of their alloyed genre to spark interest from the get-go.
Formed in Westfield, Massachusetts in 1999, the rather ominously-named KILLSWITCH ENGAGE initially pitched their wares by opening for Scandic death-metallers, IN FLAMES. On hearing their brutal but cathartic stage prowess, the New Brunswick, NJ-based independent, Ferret Music, gave the band their first opportunity to shine. Their eponymous KILLSWITCH ENGAGE (2000) {*6}, set the tone for others to come, while many cited the record as a textbook touchstone for the advent of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Heretical hardcore displaying their tour de force theatrics, choice cuts came courtesy of `Temples From The Within’, `Vide Infra’, `In The Unblind’ and `Numb Sickened Eyes’.
Adding former AFTERSHOCK drummer Tom Gomes for powerhouse effect (Dutkiewicz switched to guitar), and reprising nuggets “Temples” and “Vide”, KSE expanded their hardcore horizons on Roadrunner Records debut, ALIVE OR JUST BREATHING (2002) {*7}. Almost NAPALM DEATH with a measure of melody, although closer to American heroes, SLAYER and METALLICA, their apocalyptic visions were embraced on the crunching and confrontational `Numbered Days’, `Self Revolution’, `Fixation On The Darkness’, etc.; only the delightful and pastoral `Without A Name’ instrumental makes a break from their relentless onslaught.
Major personnel changes within the ranks resulted in Leach duly taking leave of absence, although a replacement was found in Howard Jones (no, not that one!), while drummer Justin Foley superseded Gomes in plenty to lay down fresh cuts for the group’s breakthrough Top 30 third set, THE END OF HEARTACHE (2004) {*8}. The facelift complete as screecher Jones more than compensated for the loss of Leach (there were also ‘Sabbath-esque “Fluff” moments in `Inhale’ and `And Embers Rise’), KILLSWITCH ENGAGE pulled out all the stops on the explosive `A Bid Farewell’, `Take This Oath’, `When Darkness Falls’, `World Ablaze’ and `Wasted Sacrifice’.
Buoyed up by a UK Reading Festival appearance in 2006 (they also covered DIO’s `Holy Diver’), AS DAYLIGHT DIES {*8} was another “depth-defying” and multi-dimensional recording that registered with a metal fraternity loving the dual axe-grinding roles of Joel and Adam; check out the swirling `This Is Absolution’, `Unbroken’ and `Eye Of The Storm’. Improving on sales from their previous sets, the Brendan O’Brien-produced fifth set, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE (2009) {*6}, found its way into the Top 10 (Top 30 in Britain), but echoing the thrash-metal traits of IRON MAIDEN and the likes, when they’d created and cemented their own darkened visions, it left a slight taste of disappointment. But for the grindcore `I Would Do Anything’ and a few others of the machine-gun metal variety (`Reckoning’ and `Starting Over’ were a tad radio-friendly), the quintet seemed to be toning down.
On the back of a collaboration between Adam and his old mucker Jesse Leach for a one-off set THE HYMN OF A BROKEN MAN (2011) {*6}, under the pseudonymous TIMES OF GRACE billing (while the former was recovering from a spinal operation), the KSE originals and Foley were contemplating a reunion after the untimely departure of Jones. Comeback Top 10 set, DISARM THE DESCENT (2013) {*6} recaptured the Killswitch of old, a frighteningly frenzied affair which clawed back the raucous years when the schizoid-like Leach could stretch his guttural growl between tighter tonsil transmittals, and all-in muscular menace. While the opening salvos `The Hell In Me’ and `Beyond The Flames’ subconsciously borrow licks (in-part) from BUZZCOCKS (“Pulsebeat”) and The POLICE (“Invisible Sun”), the masters of malevolent metal go on the rampage with `In Due Time’, `All We Have’, `A Tribute To The Fallen’ and the demonic, `The Call’.
“Growling” from strength to strength, as witnessed on their transatlantic Top 10 set INCARNATE (2016) {*7}, the relentless and uncompromising KILLSWITCH ENGAGE were again proving maniacal melody could melt into metalcore. The livid and literate Leach the unhinged focal point in their examinations of life’s rigors, the sonic sojourns came no mightier than `Alone I Stand’, `Hate By Design’, the machine-gun/bone-rattling `Embrace The Journey… Upraised’ and the download-single, `Strength Of The Mind’.
If superstition played a part in the mind-set of deathcore 5-piece KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, then the number 13 – the US and UK peak position of 2019’s ATONEMENT {*7} – was an uncanny coincidence. Produced by guitarist Dutkiewicz for Metal Blade Records, there was even room for a dual spot for former member Howard Jones, when he combined with Jason Leach on `The Signal Fire’; note that the latter had undergone successful throat surgery. Not so prominent but equally transcending, TESTAMENT’s Chuck Billy growled his guttural grind on `The Crownless King’, whilst incendiary cuts `Unleashed’, `I Am Broken Too’ and `Ravenous’ combined jagged melody with rapid-fire sustainability.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2013-Sep2019

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