[17 March 2011]
In every era and genre of music, there are certain albums that define the period and establish trends that everyone else follows. The dawn of metalcore in the early 2000s was defined by Killswitch Engage’s monumental sophomore album, Alive or Just Breathing. The perfect blend of harsh and clean vocals from vocalist Jesse Leach combined with Adam Dutkiewicz’s overwhelmingly catchy guitar riffs yielded an album with influential power still felt today. The speed with which Alive or Just Breathing began to change metal was astounding, only matched by Leach’s shocking and sudden departure from the band in 2002, the same year the album was released. It was an unfortunate ending to what many consider to be the band’s greatest era, and while Leach’s replacement, Howard Jones, is more than capable as a frontman, Killswitch Engage has not yet released an album that has matched the influence and scope of Alive or Just Breathing.
Which is why Times of Grace, the new collaboration by Leach and Dutkiewicz, is already one of the best bands in modern metal, nine years after the fateful change in Killswitch Engage’s lineup. In that time, Dutkiewicz’s position as one of the best songwriters in American metal has not changed, as he is still able to craft incredible compositions on guitar, bass, and drums. Meanwhile, Leach has somehow become an even more powerful singer, with an even wider vocal range and more control over his primal screams. These factors come together on the duo’s debut album as Times of Grace, entitled The Hymn of a Broken Man. And just like Alive or Just Breathing before it, The Hymn of a Broken Man is already attracting praise and accolades from all over the metal community for its pure excellence.
The comparisons between this album and Alive or Just Breathing are inescapable, as are general comparisons between Times of Grace and Killswitch Engage. However, while some of the riffs may seem similar to the material Dutkiewicz has written for Killswitch Engage’s last three albums, the differences come through in the subtle additions to the songwriting. The elements of blues, progressive rock, shoegaze, and electronica all combine to give The Hymn of a Broken Man a much more diverse feel, creating atmospheric effects and keeping the album as a whole engaging with tempo changes and unexpected new influences shining through. These additions are most obvious on tracks like “The Forgotten One”, an entirely acoustic blues tune that is one of the album’s best tracks, and “Fall from Grace”, a song which features a towering, highly atmospheric composition that brilliantly offsets the soulful crooning of Dutkiewicz. These songs, along with the other subtle and blatant influences included in the album’s compositions, prove just how intelligent and forward-thinking Dutkiewicz is as a songwriter.
The vocals and lyrics, though, are where The Hymn of a Broken Man really touches the hearts and minds of many listeners. Leach sings and screams through these songs with the energy and emotion of a man fighting for his very soul against unimaginable forces of darkness, making every word heartfelt and powerful. The strength of his voice is truly brought to life in his lyrics, which have a recurring theme of faith in the face of desperate times. Whether preaching for unity on “Strength in Numbers”, pleading for an end to division and prejudice on “Live in Love”, or finding the strands of positivity in bleakness on “Hope Remains”, Leach is one of the most inspirational lyricists in all of metal. His lyrics come from the soul, and they speak to the soul of anyone that desires a better world.
Times of Grace is one of the best new musical ventures to come out of the metal world in recent years. In taking a tried-and-true sound and giving it a new spin, the pair of Leach and Dutkiewicz have managed to create something truly special and unique. No longer the young musicians of nine years ago getting their first taste of fame, these two men are now veterans delivering the best work of their respective careers. The Hymn of a Broken Man is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the modern metal scene, injecting hope and perseverance into a realm dominated by despair and anger.