The very first time I ever heard Killswitch Engage was when their 2002 album Alive or Just Breathing had just been released. A good friend of mine, who I also played in a band with (cause every suburban white dude was in a band at least once when they were a teenager right?) put on the song “My Last Serenade” and I instantly fell in love. I’ve been a huge fan of the band ever since that very moment. Last week they dropped their new album, Incarnate, and I’ve listened to it at least twice a day since then. AT LEAST. It’s the follow up to their 2013 album Disarm the Descent, which saw the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach. That album also garnered them an Grammy Award nomination for “Best Metal Performance”, for the song “In Due Time“. That album really is fantastic. It felt like a return to the Alive or Just Breathing days, before Jesse left the band and Howard Jones stepped in a took over vocalist duties for, roughly, the next decade. There’s a visceral quality to both of those albums that is very captivating. Incarnate, though, is a different beast altogether.
It feels like such natural evolution for the band. Maybe it’s the tracking or the mixing, but the whole thing just sounds cleaner. I don’t mean that it sounds polished or sterile, just that you can really hear all the little nuanced things that it was easy to miss on their last album and I feel like that could be due to how the album was tracked, mixed and mastered (or maybe it’s just that I have WAY better headphones now? #Sennheiser4Lyfe)
“Alone I Stand” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s the opening track and it builds though some well placed feedback, into a tribal drum beat, and ending at a sick riff. Then there are these little rhythm changes that you’ll only catch if you’re listening close enough. The chorus is a beautiful melody with Leach confidently declaring, “No allegiance. Defiant I withstand. This resistance. I reject what you demand, and alone I stand.” It’s a perfect opener and pretty much exactly the kind of heavy jam we’ve come to love from these dudes.
The second single off the album is “Hate by Design”, and in many ways it feels like a… I sort of loathe myself for using this term… but it feels like a *spiritual successor* to “Fixation on the Darkness” from Alive or Just Breathing. They have very similar opening structures and place a substantial emphasis on the rhythm in the verses and then switch to melodic dominance during the chorus. Yes, I’m aware this describes most all metalcore and melodic metal songs, but these two songs also seem to share a common ideal lyrically as well. Obviously these are all vague-ish lyrics and open to interpretation but I’m gonna give it a shot…. “Fixation on the Darkness” is about being influenced by the negativity and the bullshit that we’re confronted with every single day (“Fixation on the darkness that engulfs this world. Drain the life force of our people…”), and encouraging the listener that the only way to escape the effects is by committing to be more intentionally compassionate (“Change, the only way we will survive”). “Hate by Design” comes across to me like a sequel, of sorts, in that Leach is, among other things, speaking to people who failed to head his warning in “Fixation…” and saying, “Look, you can’t help that this is the world you’re born into, and therefor predisposed to it’s negative influence, but the best way to live is to find a way to beat that negativity and admit that our hate doesn’t have to be a defining character trait.” (“Hate, hate by design is destroying our lives. Seek to find, some understanding. Redefine your life!”) His vocals are aggressive but very pleading at the same time, and that lets you know that he isn’t just phoning it in. He genuinely believes in what he’s saying without any hint of ego or self-righteousness. That’s rare in metal.
Right now, I’d have to say that my favorite track from Incarnate is “Embrace the Journey…Upraised”. The track kicks off with a bass-line that kind of riffs, if that makes sense, and crescendos to a groovy guitar section that is complimented by a loud and steady drum beat. The middle chunk of the song alternates back and forth between trash metal style brutality and groove metal jams. It almost kind of feels like a Sepultura song in that manner. Which makes a lot of sense when you consider how tribal the final act of the song is, with a deep and heavy drum beat and chanting vocals (“Silence the voice of the self-righteous, condescending and without grace. Give sight to those who are blind with hatred, to see beyond hypocrisy”).
While the album does pretty much pummel your ears straight through from beginning to end, it does have a few mellow-ish, more reflective moments. The tracks “Quiet Distress” and “We Carry On” come to mind as songs that trade the hard-hitting, in-your-face ferocity for a slowed-down heaviness that doesn’t assault you but more compels you to feel the weight of the emotion being conveyed.
Incarnate is an amazing record. It’s Killswitch Engage at their creative best, and executing that creativity like masters of their craft. It’s a very eclectic album. I think you can especially hear influence from the late 80’s through the mid-90’s eras of trash and melodic death metal. You can almost just drop the “core” at this point when referring to them because KsE is METAL band, made up of 5 dudes who just love playing heavy music that makes people feel good. Does that mean we’d call Incarnate a “feel good record”? I actually would. I’ve been listening to it for almost an entire week and I feel good. I feel empowered. Some people go to seminars and buy books to feel better about themselves and get insight on how to build a resistance to negativity. Metalheads though, we buy metal records and go to metal shows and that’s how we handle all the stress and frustrations we deal with on a daily basis.
Speaking of shows, KsE is on tour RIGHT NOW, with support from Memphis May Fire, 36 Crazyfists, and Toothgrinder. Check out their tour dates and make sure to catch the show if they come through your town, I know I will!