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Album Review: Killswitch Engage Have Nothing To Apologize for on Atonement

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It feels like just yesterday that Jesse Leach rejoined Killswitch Engage, but it’s been seven years. Entire subgenres have been born, crapped out shitty bands, and died in that time. Killswitch could’ve been caught up in one of those trends themselves. Back in 1999, when they initially formed, the metalcore/New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement was just starting to sprout up through the cracks in the concrete slab of nu-metal. The music started to explode around when Leach left the band to be replaced by the excellent Howard Jones and it was basically over by the time Jones left in 2012. Killswitch prevailed, however. They’ve survived in a mercurial musical landscape for two decades.

The outfit’s eighth album overall (and third with Leach back in the band), Atonement, proves that Killswitch Engage haven’t missed a step. It also proves they haven’t stepped very far outside their comfort zone. It’s reductive to say this feels like Killswitch-by-numbers, especially with material this strong, but it certainly offers no surprises to longtime listeners. Do you like shout/sung dynamics, guitar solos punctuated with breakdowns, and nakedly emotive lyrics? These guys have got you covered.

While nothing here feels out of place, the band consciously tried for thrashier tunes this time around. They even went as far as to enlist Testament vocalist Chuck Billy for “The Crownless King.” That song sounds like it could’ve been on a late-period Testament record, and it’s not alone. “As Sure as the Sun Will Rise” and “Bite the Hand that Feeds” both help the group achieve that mission statement. “The Signal Fire” also features a guest vocalist: Howard Jones. He and Leach spit flames at each other in a pretty sweet showdown of vocal shredding. Everybody wins! That said, they don’t skimp on the heartfelt ballads, especially the affirmation-laden “I Am Broken Too.” To Leach’s credit, he takes subject matter that could read as cheesy and invests it with an unimpeachable sincerity.

Atonement is a strong release, but it’s tricky with a band like this or Amon Amarth where they’re all strong releases. The band knows exactly what its audience wants and how to deliver it to them. That’s easy to take for granted, especially because the songwriting is so consistent with the rest of their catalog. Still, there’s a reason Killswitch Engage have survived when many of their peers tripped over their ear gauges and fell by the wayside. They’re just really damn good at what they do.

Atonement drops August 16 on Metal Blade. Listen to “I Am Broken Too” here and preorder the album here.

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