The New Awakening ...
“All that we suffer through leads to determination / The trials we all go through gives us the strength to carry on,” sings vocalist Jesse Leach on the resolute “In Due Time” off Killswitch Engage’s sixth and latest studio release, Disarm the Descent. You see, Jesse Leach has another shot with the Massachusetts metalcore pioneers and this time he is determined to see things through. After the release of 2002’s metal game-changer Alive or Just Breathing, Leach quit the band because of personal problems leaving Killswitch Engage on the cusp of greatness without a singer. Thankfully for the band, Blood Has Been Shed frontman Howard Jones filled the void. With Jones slipping seamlessly into the ranks and being accepted as vocalist by the band’s ever-growing fanbase, Killswitch Engage released their most successful record, 2004’s The End of Heartache, while Leach returned to relative anonymity.
2006’s As Daylight Dies and 2009’s self titled effort followed for Killswitch; the former retained the magic mix of huge vocal hooks and melodic yet aggressive metal that the band made their signature sound, the latter lacked the spark of the past with Jones’s tired performance and the band’s lacklustre song-writing waving a red flag as to the health of this, at one time, trailblazing troupe. During this period, Leach worked regular jobs, sang in stoner rock band Seemless and the hardcore band the Empire Shall Fall and began to feel the fire burn inside him again. Friendships were mended and past mistakes forgiven and Leach, alongside Killswitch guitarist/producer Adam Ductkiewicz, formed Times of Grace and released The Hymn of a Broken Man in 2011 – a precursor to his return as Killswitch vocalist when Jones finally stepped down.
This takes us back to the lyrics above, passionately delivered by the returning vocalist on Disarm the Descent‘s first single “In Due Time”. It is one of many calls for positivity amidst struggle found within this record, not to mention within this “Life to Lifeless”-rivalling anthem alone. This is typical lyrically of the band’s hardcore roots and such a stance fires up the music on this record to the extent that Killswitch, as clichéd as it sounds, are a band reborn. In many ways, this should have been named as the band’s self titled release, as Killswitch are firing on all cylinders (more warranted clichés); cylinders that have not been fully functional since 2004.
There is a desperate energy to Leach’s performance, heightened by the hunger and urgency driving the music of Disarm the Descent. This hunger is apparent from the opening blast-beats and barbarous roars of “The Hell in Me”; a song whereby Killswitch teach those who followed in their wake how to balance belligerence and grace without coming across as hackneyed.
The scorching “Beyond the Flames” and the unrelenting music and lyrical message backing “New Awakening” and “All That We Have” show that the crunch of American hardcore with the incisiveness of European melodic death metal in the year 2013 is not an exhausted combination, once the band’s focus on precise song-writing remains steadfast. That’s why, in order to succeed playing the style of metal that Killswitch perfected, song-writing chops and hooks are paramount, and Disarm the Descent is trimmed of any possible excess. It’s a frantic record that, except for the heartfelt quasi-ballad “Always”, doesn’t give you much time to breathe.
There is also something about hearing Leach scream and sing with every fibre of his being over Killswitch’s powerful metalcore that just feels right. His stentorian screams and soaring choruses find their way through the surprisingly fast paced riffs of Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel and battering tempo changes that drummer Justin Foley and bassist Mike D’Antonio dictate with poise and power to resonate on highlights “The Call”, “You Don’t Bleed for Me” and “No End in Sight”. Where in the past his departure could have crippled Killswitch, Leach, in a strange twist of fate, has returned as the band’s savior. Disarm the Descent is the bountiful fruit of the Killswitch’s rejuvenation, and proof that, in life and metal, there are second chances.