[29 November 2006]
Massachusetts’ Killswitch Engage may already by four LPs into their career, but, like peers Underoath, the band have had to undergo a new beginning recently even as they were at the forefront of the metalcore scene they helped to pioneer before truly coming into their own. As with any genre, they’ve found their success by measuring and exploiting a formula: pounding aggression coupled with accessible choruses; that advance, by itself, will probably have more impact on the music world than anything the band could, or will, write.
That said, it helps that they’ve got a both powerful and graceful vocallist, Howard Jones, who made his debut on 2004’s The End of Heartache replacing former, weaker frontman Jesse Leach, and Adam Dutkiewicz, who is gifted as a metal guitarist to such an extent that several contemporaries are now asking him to produce their own work. As Daylight Dies finds Killswitch—the poster boys of metalcore—finding their feet with their new singer, reading each other’s musical ambitions (as a record, it’s almost as ambitious as it is grandiose) and moving away from the lighter pastures that blessed Heartache and back towards the melodic death metal they were influenced by. This makes it a somewhat difficult listen at first: there are no ‘classics’ to swear by, nothing quite as memorable as “The End of Heartache” or “Bid Farewell” were before, but it’s certainly their most consistent record yet, and one that even their ‘haters’ will find something to like about.
Single “My Curse” segues in like it was taken directly from the pages of “My Last Serenade”—a mellow, streamlined intro which explodes into chugga-chugga chords spotlighting embarrassingly earnest ex-girlfriend lyrics: “There is love / Burning to find you / Will you wait for me?”; “Still I want / Still I ache / But still I wait / To see you again”. But, astonishingly, the album’s not wholly about this brand of heart-on-sleeve metal—“This Is Absolution” encourages the population to shrug off the bonds that restrain them (namely, death), and it’s riddled with pleasant acoustic interludes and rapid-fire licks that can only come from being the leaders of a genre; it’d be mighty gratifying to see Lamb of God or even Cannibal Corpse work with the precision they do here.
The title track, a bass-heavy behemoth that also opens the set, is sure to become a staple of the band’s live show in months to come, and “The Arms of Sorrow” is sure to aggravate the band’s early fans into cries of sellout—then again, they should have already been doing so, and in reality, it’s a sweepingly melodic, even understated, number, while Jones’ voice commands the noise beneath him with incredible potency. “Desperate Times” is the disc’s epic, roaring in to signal exclusive new territory for Killswitch Engage, but thrash wannabe “Unbroken”, while it’s probably what the group’s hardcore following are aching to hear, is a mess; and it’s not the only one. Jones’ voice, on one line delivering a semi-articulate ‘death grunt’, on the next passionately singing, or weeping “There is redemption”, is enough to drag it into self-parody.
Part of the problem is the wretched over-production. At times it’s hard to appreciate the higher part of what Dutkiewicz is trying to achieve, simply due to an over-abundance of thick, soupy feedback. You can’t help feeling that Killswitch would have been better off spending their coin (and don’t get me wrong, it’s well-deserved) on adding to the content itself (it clocks in at a total of only 11 tracks, and you do get a little sick of hearing about Howard’s / Adam’s / Stroetzel’s past love life). Consequently, As Daylight Dies may not contain the band’s best songs, but it is still their best release yet, one that steers for the most part away from the screaming of the past and into deeper, heavier textures designed to make the speakers bleed. Plus, its good tracks are enough to speak for itself: “My Curse”, “As Daylight Dies”, “The Arms of Sorrow” in particular, and finale “Reject Yourself”, which reeks of a speedy, albeit conventional, metal romp, and snuffs out the project without any sense of conclusion whatsoever.
You can’t help feeling that Jones takes most of the credit; he’s given the other members both new life and revived strength. In a world now crowded with similar bands if you know where to look, Killswitch Engage have the brimming sincerity, the well-placed balance, the tolerable lyrics (only just), the alternating chunks of melody and energy, and the know-how in the instrumental department to come out head and shoulders clear—and, best of all, they… still… sound like no-one else.