• Sammy O'Hagar

killswitch engage self-titled

Killswitch Engage’s newest self-titled album sounds familiar, but that’s not the band’s fault. Well, actually, yes it is, in that the bludgeoned-to-dog-food horse known as metalcore owes a debt to the gentlemen in Killswitch. But even as a dude with what some could argue a pretentious taste in metal (the new Sunn 0))) album is definitely a grower, but it’s worth the wait!), I’ve always had a soft spot for the band: despite the throngs of guys with product-hardened hair and shitty sleeves acting like they’re the only ones to discover the first few In Flames records, Killswitch always knew what they did and knew they were good at it. You know exactly what you’re getting with one of their records – nimble-fingered Swede-tastic guitars occasionally cribbing from the Big Book of Metalcore Breakdowns, vocalist Howard Jones’ good cop/bad cop histrionics, a power ballad practically tailor made for Guitar Hero – but it’s always nice to hear it. It instantly brings one back to the halcyon days of the early ‘00s, when metalcore wasn’t so immediately associated with what was wrong with metal and deathcore wasn’t quickly becoming its fraternal twin.

Killswitch Engage is most likely the best thing the band has made since Alive or Just Breathing: the songwriting’s stronger here than it has been on their last two records. (That’s a bold claim, considering the band’s readymade for radio melodies on The End of Heartache.) But all the things that make for a great Killswitch record – little tweaks to the metalcore formula for the over-eighteen crowd, almost maddeningly catchy pop hooks – are on display here, and more polished than they have been: the Swedish death metal blasts on “Reckoning,” the Lamb of God-ish stomp and hefty nod to thrash on “The Forgotten,” the “Rock Me Like a Hurricane”-style reverse-drum buildup on “I Would Do Anything,” and the noodly opening of “Take Me Away” all provide brief glimpses into the expansive palette of the band, while “The Returns” takes its place alongside “My Curse” and “The End of Heartache” in the band’s power ballad crown. Their problem areas still arise, in that their saccharine approach can get a little tiresome after a while, and Jones’ lyrics often border on cringe inducing, even in a genre not known for its enticing wordplay. But if you like Killswitch Engage, you’ll have a lot to grab on to here. If you hate them, you’ll still most likely be miserable.

And only Killswitch Engage can make an album with uber-producer Brendan O’Brien (who’s worked with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bruce Springsteen) and wind up with a comparatively gritty effort. Adam Dutkiewicz’s production can be a little on the sterile side to some (unless, of course, you like your metal production to be glossy to the point of having a blinding sheen), so introducing him into the Killswitch mix has certainly breathed some new life into the band. But O’Brien doesn’t change much: the band’s still married to big guitars, breakdowns, and Jones’ waffling between his Blood Has Been Shed bark/scream and emotive crooning. Killswitch bring exactly what you expect them to, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing: they’re still the best trad-metalcore act around. Once they were the best guys in the genre; now, they’re the only band in metalcore worth caring about. If anything, Killswitch Engage reminds you why Killswitch Engage is still here.

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(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)


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