Killswitch Engage offers 'disarming' metal record
If you’re a true metal fan, you’ve likely been spending the last few weeks biting your fingernails with your Monthly Metal Allowance crinkling in your pocket while you anxiously scan The Cavalier Daily for my judgment of Killswitch Engage’s latest album, ‘Disarm the Descent.’ The Massachusetts quintet was hailed as the crusaders of metalcore after their 2002 effort, ‘Alive or Just Breathing.’ Following the subsequent departure of vocalist Jesse Leach, the band took a new direction with Howard Jones, a man whose crooning baritone could quite easily win the hearts of any ‘American Idol’ crowd before scaring them all out of the filming location with the sharpest scream/growl combo since Stefano Fiori of Graveworm.
But this isn’t about Jones or the KSE of 2003-2012; this is about the return of Leach and the revival of the raw yet refined, savagely chaotic yet soul-cleansing sound for which many a fan yearned. ‘Disarm the Descent’ is not about proving a point; it is about recovering a way of music.
Particularly after the negative message behind KSE’s last album, Leach’s comeback is most marked by lyrics of struggle and redemption. In the pre-chorus driven by Mike D’Antonio’s bass in “In Due Time,” Leach screams “What victory/when my soul is weak/where does my help come from?” The screeching hold of the last syllable and lead vocalist Adam Dutkiewicz’s guttural, backing yells simultaneously showers strife and a nostalgic brutality upon the lead single.
Deeper into the album, this sense of urgency is not only bolstered in “New Awakening” in lines such as “I’d rather burn out than fade away” but also by the rapid pace and relatively short track lengths of ‘Disarm the Descent,’ the result being an album filled with short adrenaline shots, most of which are unable to make a long-lasting impression. The constant quick track paces and lengths seem to shift the focus of the album away from the building of momentum in individual songs and toward an expected verse-chorus-bridge-chorus track structure during which listeners are too much reminded of what is coming instead of what is present.
The mixing of the record, while generally solid, seems to subtract from a rawness on what I believe to be the best new KSE song, moreover their best track of all time, and a song which wasn’t even truly on the actual album: the demo of “No End in Sight.” That version noticeably varies from its final version on the album in terms of Leach’s harsh vocals. Although the screams and growls on the demo are less distinct than on the album version, they are coarser and more reminiscent of the aggression displayed by Leach in his side project, Times of Grace. The track features a signature speech intro — like on KSE’s “Numbered Days” and Time of Grace’s “Strength in Numbers” — before its second verse sees Dutkiewicz solemnly stating that we are “no longer numb to the pain/knowing that we fight to the grave/wash away the fear of our ignorance,” the same words echoed in Leach’s screams lending a cryptic feeling to the track. Drawing on all of KSE’s strengths, this song easily made its way onto my “KSE Classics” list.
Despite being limited by its song structures, ‘Disarm the Descent’ has not so much been squandered by KSE as it has redefined and revitalized the band while maintaining its metalcore sound.