21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century... So Far

#4: KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – ALIVE OR JUST BREATHING

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We recently polled a wide array of musicians, managers, publicists, label reps, and writers from within the world of metal to find out what they thought the 21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century So Far have been. Eligible albums were released between January 1, 2000 and  April 1, 2009. Each panelist turned in a ballot, with their #1 album worth 21 points, their #2 album worth 20 points, and so on and so forth. The ballots are now in and we’ll be counting down one album a day until we reach #1. Today we present the #4 album, coming in with a total of 204 points…

Killswitch Engage, Alive or Just Breathing (Roadrunner, 2002)
Jesse Leach – Vocals
Adam Dutkiewicz
– Drums/Guitars/Piano
Mike D’Antonio – Bass
Joel Stroetzel
– Guitars
Tom Gomes – Drums
Produced by
Adam Dutkiewicz

“THE TIME APPROACHES!!!” Jesse Leach howls in the first seconds of Alive or Just Breathing. “Kingdoms will rise to power/but kingdoms fall to dust.”

It’s as though he were talking about nu-metal.

It is entirely possible that, as Ian Christe posits, you can credit the #7 album on this list, Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake, with “commercially killing off nu-metal.”  But there’s no denying that, at least as of 2009, AOJB was more influential, and, perhaps, should be credited with artistically killing off nu-metal.

Which is ironic, because Adam D. dressed like a member of Adema at the time.

Also ironic: this is barely what we’ve come to know as a Killswitch Engage record. Although I’m sure there are some trolls somewhere pining away for the return of Leach to the fold, this is basically no one’s idea of the definitive KSE line-up (that would be the currently-still-intact line-up that recorded the #6 album, The End of Heartache). Hell, there wasn’t really a line-up here; the album was recorded over the course of nearly a year and a half, with resident savant Adam D. basically doing whatever was needed, like metalcore’s answer to Trent Reznor or Prince.

Maybe that’s why this album is vicious in a way that the Jones/Foley years have never really been. The core of the band – Dutkiewicz, D’Antonio and Stroetzel – has remained the same all this time, but there’s some different personalities for them to intermingle with, and I wonder if it didn’t push them jjjjuuuussssttt this side of heavier. Pete Cortese, who wrote the totally wicked riff that powers “Fixation on the Darkness,” never even recorded with the band, and Leach seemed a lot more concerned with grandiose spiritual questions then, say, some chick. Sure, the band was borrowing liberally from the Swedes, but who fucking cares? Better than borrowing liberally from Limp Bizkit. Alive or Just Breathing is really just pure kill.

“Temple from the Within” ends with the longest breakdown ever that isn’t Pantera’s “Domination.” The stabbing doberman bark riff that kicks off “Life to Lifeless” makes me want to kill something every time I hear it (and it goes great with strobe lights). I’m even willing to forgive “Just Barely Breathing” for recycling a lyrical concept that Tool had utilized in “Prison Sex” nearly a decade earlier, just because the song crushes oh so very hard.

(And on a side note: why is there no question mark in the title? The lyrics to the track “Just Barely Breathing,” from whence the album takes its name, clearly ask a question – “Are we alive or just breathing?” – but the way its actually written on the album cover makes it seem like more of a statement.)

After AOJB, it seemed like half the bands in the world were being produced by Adam D. or having their album art and/or merch designed by Mike D’Antonio. And this happened for reason: the album is great. People forget that sometimes things become trendy because they were actually cool. Alive or Just Breathing was – is = genuinely, 110% cool. It’s not the band’s fault that so many of the groups that came after them sucked.

With all due respect to Howard Jones and Justin Foley: Alive or Just Breathing was, is, and will continue to be the definitive Killswitch Engage album, and possibly the definitive metalcore record. Fuckin’ A.

-AR

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THE LIST SO FAR:

#5 – Converge, Jane Doe

#6 – Killswitch Engage, The End of Heartache

#7 – Lamb of God, Ashes of the Wake

#8 – In Flames, Clayman

#9 – Gojira, From Mars to Sirius

#10 – Opeth, Ghost Reveries

#11 – Deftones, White Pony

#12 – Tool, Lateralus

#13 – Mastodon, Blood Mountain

#14 – System of a Down, Toxicity

#15 – Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1

#16 – Machine Head, The Blackening

#17 – Hatebreed, Perseverance

#18 – Lamb of God, New American Gospel

#19 – Mastodon, Remission

#20 – Shadows Fall, The War Within

#21 – Slipknot, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses

THE PANEL OF VOTERS

Chris Adler, Lamb of God
Dan And, Bison B.C.
Ben Apatoff, Apatoff for Destruction
/Metal Injection
Jason Bittner, Shadows Fall
Tim Brennan, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
Freddy Cai, Painkiller Magazine
Ian Christe, Bazillion Points
Reverend David J. Ciancio, Yeah! Management
Betsey Cichoracki, Relapse Records
Paul Conroy, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
J. Costa, Thy Will Be Done
Dallas Coyle, ex-God Forbid/Coyle Media
Doc Coyle, God Forbid
CT, Rwake
Anso DF, MetalSucks/Hipsters Out of Metal!
Vince Edwards, Metal Blade Records
Charles Elliott, Abysmal Dawn/Nuclear Blast Records
Brian Fair, Shadows Fall
Leo Ferrante, Warner Music Group
D.X. Ferris, author 33 1/3: Reign in Blood/Freelance Journalist
Mike Gitter, Roadrunner Records
Nick Green, Decibel
Matt Grenier, August Burns Red
Anthony Guzzardo, Earache Records
Kevin Hufnagel, Dysrhythmia
Mark Hunter, Chimaira
Steve Joh, Century Media
EJ Johantgen, Prosthetic Records
Kim Kelly, Metal Injection
/Hails & Horns/Freelance Journalist
Josh “The J” Key, Psychostick
Jason Lekberg, Epic Records
Eyal Levi, Daath
Bob Lugowe, Relapse Records
Matt McChesney, The Autumn Offering
Jake McReynolds,
Psychostick
Marc Meltzer, The Syndicate
Josh Middleton, Sylosis
Matt Moore, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder
Vince Neilstein, MetalSucks
Sammy O’Hagar, MetalSucks
Anton OyVey, MetalSucks/Bacon Jew
Rob Pasbani, Metal Injection

Alex Preiss, Psychostick
Carlos Ramirez, NoiseCreep/Universal Music Group
Brian Rocha, Fresno Media USA
Jeremy Rosen, Roadrunner Records
Axl Rosenberg, MetalSucks
Satan Rosenbloom, MetalSucks/Cerebral Metalhead
David Bee Roth, MetalSucks
Jason Rudolph, Heavy Hitter, Inc.

Amy Sciarretto, Roadrunner Records/NoiseCreep
Carl Severson, Ferret Music/Channel Zero Entertainment
Gary Suarez, MetalSucks/No Yoko No/Brainwashed
Geoff Summers, The End Records/Crustcake
Bram Teitelman, The Syndicate/Metal Insider
Alisha Turull, Heavy Hitter, Inc.
Christopher R. Weingarten, 1000TimesYes/Freelance Journalist

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