[13 February 2014]
It’s strange how things come around full circle as time passes by. For Killswitch Engage, their career has taken on a cyclic nature, just like the status of the genre they played a substantial role in popularizing a decade ago. With original vocalist Jesse Leach’s much publicized return to the metalcore pioneers in 2012 after departing for personal reasons back in 2002 and the positive reception afforded to 2013’s Disarm the Descent—Killswitch’s first album with Leach since the 2002 landmark Alive or Just Breathing—the Boston five-piece seem to be back on form after their lacklustre final release with vocalist Howard Jones.
Howard Jones’s time with Killswitch Engage should not be undervalued, however, as his statuesque vocals and keen ear for towering choruses were essential to the survival of the band and the eventual success of their number 21 on the Billboard 200 album, 2004’s The End of Heartache. But Jones always seemed uncomfortable in his role as vocalist of a mainstream metal band and jaded by the stresses of life on the road, and consequently his time with the band had an expiry date that ran out in early 2012. After several auditions to try and fill the position, it was clear that if Leach was mentally ready he was the man to step into the fray. And according to the spectrum of ages in Dublin’s the Academy tonight—mostly a mix of teenagers probably here to see Killswitch live for the first time and folks in their late twenties who grew up with the band—there are plenty of people excited to witness Leach front Killswitch for his debut show on Irish soil.
Irish metal audiences always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to the tour packages and tonight isn’t much different. The UK leg of this tour also includes Trivium and Miss May I, but both bands are missing from the bill this evening; Trivium’s absence is presumably because they are playing their own headline gig here during the summer. Opening instead are Menshevik, a British hardcore punk band who have been toiling away for years. Menshevik’s forgettable songs raise mild applause from the growing crowd and their vocalist’s try-hard moves—constantly collapsing on the ground; stomping around the venue floor without much notice from the audience; trying to climb up the amps—come across as more petulant teenager than anything resembling a threat.
With the Academy filling up by the second, the arrival of Canton, Michigan’s Battlecross comes at an opportune time for the audience and band alike. Battlecross, who announce at one point that they are too broke to bring their own gear for this tour, are much more entertaining live than on record and they endear themselves to the Irish crowd from the start. Their lively brand of metal, which is heavy on Lamb of God-esque groove and the brawny hooks of bands like Amon Amarth, incite mass head-banging from the crowd. Vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther—who actually looks like the love-child of Chris Alder and Johan Hegg—proves to be an engaging frontman. Gunther is all charming stage banter and smiles between songs, but when the music hits, his pitched shrieks and deep growls contradict his demeanour as the rest of the band thrash around while focused in a workman-like manner on nailing the changes of contagious songs like “The Will To Overcome” and “Beast”. Battlecross leave the stage tonight with plenty of new Irish friends backing them—something that every band visiting a country for the first time dreams of.
Released in April of last year, Disarm the Descent had a familiarity to it that oddly made the album sound fresh when you consider how on auto-pilot Killswitch had been on their previous album, 2009’s Killswitch Engage. It’s encouraging to see that the songs picked from their latest album—highlights being “New Awakening”, “Beyond the Flames” and “In Due Time”—slot seamlessly into a set that spotlights how many anthems this rejuvenated group have at their disposal.
Beginning with a fearless rendition of “A Bid Farewell” proves to be a fine way to introduce Leach to the crowd and he delivers the song’s grandstanding chorus with ease and even finds himself held aloft by the arms of the front row. The strain Leach placed on his vocals from years of screaming was one of the reasons behind his decision to leave the band in the first place, but now he relies on technique as much as raw emotion and he has never sounded stronger. He stalks the stage with veins bulging from his neck as he pours everything he has into his old songs like “Fixation on the Darkness” and the metalcore anthem, “My Last Serenade”, while giving equal respect to the songs lifted from Howard Jones’ era, one of the early standouts being a scything version of “Rose of Sharyn”.
Besides the almost-ballad “Always”, which is rolled out at a fitting time in the set, Killswitch maintain a high level of aggression the entire night and there is a hunger to the band not normally associated with their usual onstage high jinks. That said, jovial guitarist Adam D drops some of his signature quips and constantly jogs around the stage dressed like an extra from a Jane Fonda work-out video from the ‘80s while peeling off riffs and harmonizing with guitarist Joel Stroetzel as well as providing backing vocals. And when a bra lands onstage it doesn’t take long for Adam to strap himself in, much to the amusement of the rest of the band and the crowd in general, who are extremely vocal tonight. With fists raised high, the choruses of each song are belted back at the band and during the colossal “Rise Inside”—a song that sounds like it could capsize the venue with its positivity and strength—and mega-chorus of metalcore classic “The End of Heartache”, the response is deafening.
The first gig of a tour can sometimes mean the band will sound a bit blunt around the edges, but not even severe jetlag can put a stop to Killswitch, who have hit the ground running on the reception received tonight as the encore of “My Curse” echoes around the Academy followed by an audible wave of adoration.