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Killswitch Engage’s Disarm the Descent: The MetalSucks Review

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Disarm the Descent may be to Jesse Leach as As Daylight Dies is to Howard Jones. Time has been kind to Daylight. When it was released in 2006, it stood nearly no chance of living up to expectations after the phenomenal one-two punch that were 2002’s Alive or Just Breathing and 2004’s The End of Heartache. But a little more than six years later, freed of the expectations that come from having to follow-up two landmark albums in a row, Daylight is a considerably more pleasurable listening experience. It might be inferior to its predecessors, but it’s still pretty goddamn good.

Likewise, Disarm the Descent, the band’s first album with Leach since Breathing, is not the return to greatness that I think most KsE fans, myself included, were hoping it would be. But it’s still pretty goddamn good.

The thing is, even with Leach back in the fold, the band hasn’t really addressed the issues that have ultimately robbed them of reclaiming their former glory. These issues can basically be summed up thusly:

  • TONE:  AoJB‘s opening declaration of war is called “Numbered Days,” a title which suggests impending doom; only about a sixth of its three-and-a-half minute running time features clean vocals (yes, I timed it like an anal-retentive anus), and Leach’s performance of those vocals feels desperate and tired. By contrast, the opening track of Disarm the Descent is called “The Hell in Me,” which suggests psychoanalytic inner-turmoil; about half of its three-minutes feature clean vocals, which are performed in a sensitive croon.
  • PRODUCTION: The production of the clean vocals on Heartache seems more remarkable now than ever before. It’s so crisp and seemingly unadulterated that it sounds as though Jones is standing right next to you. There’s some tasteful use of very appropriate vocal effects here and there, but it’s fairly minimal. Whether or not this au naturale sound is an illusion or not is beside the point; the production never calls attention to itself, and by remaining invisible, it allows the listener to get truly lost in the songs. By contrast, Leach’s clean vocals on Descent often sound deliberately robotic. It’s an aesthetic choice, but not an understandable one; the production is basically standing there waving its arms, yelling “Look at me! Look at me!” These robo-choruses are even more disappointing when you consider that Leach still sounds really good live, without all the computer shit (and not many dudes can sell this kind of earnestness the way he can, either).

Still, Descent is a fun listen despite these problems — primarily because the band haven’t lost their ability to write really good songs. KsE’s lack of innovation is a little frustrating, especially given how innovative they once seemed… but even that’s not a deal-breaker. It’s just too hard to complain very much when the tracks keep getting stuck in your head.

And without a doubt, tracks like “In Due Time,” “Beyond the Flame,” “You Don’t Bleed for Me,” and “The New Awakening” will get stuck in your head. Cuts such as “Hell,” “Turning Point,” and “All We Have” all brandish an aggressiveness that is bound to make the listener wanna jump in the pit and fuck shit up big-time, but even the ballad “Always,” which has vocals that sound about as artificial as artificial gets, is enjoyable. Such are the power of hooks. And at a brisk forty minutes, Descent never wears out its welcome.

Killswitch Engage may never again rise to the levels of greatness that are Alive or Just Breathing or The End of Heartache. But Disarm the Descent proves they’re still creatively relevant, and worthy of their fanbase’s devotion. It’s the least-disappointing disappointment imaginable.

Killswitch Engage’s Disarm the Descent comes out April 2 on Roadrunner. You can stream the new single, “In Due Time,” below:

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