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I never believed this could ever happen: Killswitch Engage have crafted a vaguely enjoyable album. Just to make another quick summary, the latest three albums with Howard on vocals had brought the well-known metalcore band in a downward spiral of poppy, cheesy awfulness, and in all honesty, even the first two albums with Jesse Leach were pretty mediocre in their own way (though way more bearable than the recent material). But, suddenly, a miracle happened: during the late 2000s, the guitarist/mastermind Adam Dutkiewicz reunited with Jesse in the Times of Grace side-project, releasing in 2011 an album called “The Hymn of a Broken Man”. Actually, that record was a huge mixed bag, but it ultimately featured plenty of enjoyable moments - surely more than Killswitch Engage ever had. And, then, an even bigger miracle: the awful vocalist Howard Jones was forced to leave the band, due to health motivations, and Jesse finally came back in Killswitch Engage! With this lineup, Dutkiewicz & co. recorded what I personally consider to be the band’s best album until now.
Well, let’s clarify one thing: “Disarm the Descent” is far from being an entirely solid work. However, despite the multiple flaws the band is known for, this is surely the most memorable album they ever created (at least, if the term “memorable” is to be intended in a positive way; in the negative sense, there’s a lot of competition in the band’s discography). With this new record, Killswitch Engage takes some of the inspiration that permeated “The Hymn of a Broken Man” and combines it with their later poppy sound and even with some hints of the recovered Leach-era spirit, expanding it and bringing its potential to a level that the self-titled debut and “Alive or Just Breathing” weren’t able to achieve. As a result, the over-simplification and over-pussification of the compositions is dropped for the most part, though still affecting the songwriting in some measure.
The opening track, “The Hell in Me”, is a good sum of the album’s different sides, and gives you a pretty clear idea of what you’re going to find: the tremolo riffs possess a major punch than usual and you can hear some definitely fine melodies, but there are also too many monochord chugs and insipid mid-tempos which keep faith the band’s tradition; Jesse’s screams are definitely good, but his clean vocals are still quite insipid and banal, though NOT NEARLY as awful as Howard’s. These sides are findable, in variable measures and with some variants, on pretty much every track, with some remarkable ups and downs here and there.
Going forward throughout the album, what you notice is that there’s a generally stronger feeling in comparison to the band’s past efforts, and even the “mediocre” ideas (at least for the most part) aren’t as bad as on the previous two/three albums. In many parts, the “atmospheric” and/or tremolo-driven interludes are handled better than in the past (as you can hear on “Beyond the Flames” and “A Tribute to the Fallen”), and almost every song (even the worst one) shows a generally major presence of tasteful melodies - definitely reminiscent of Killswitch’s braver peers which nowadays, on the contrary, are the ones sinking more and more into commercial shittiness. It seems that Dutkiewicz is slowly taking confidence with the melodic metalcore style, having produced throughout the years some of the best albums of the genre, while having dumbed it down at the same time with the pedestrian approach of his own band: now, he’s finally learning to balance his “commercial exigences” with his musical ability, and he shows it with the powerful thrash riffage of “The Call”, the discrete groove riffs and monstrous tremolo riffs of “No End in Sight”, the cool solo of “In Due Time” and, most of all, the stellar melodic assault of the final track “Time Will Not Remain”, which is by far the most inspired song of the whole album and raises the score definitely higher.
The poppy side, unfortunately, hasn’t disappeared at all; to be honest, “Disarm the Descent” is way poppier than the band’s first two albums (which, in theory, should be the main paragon with this new product) and, despite being substantially less painful than the previous ones, you can still hear this component in many parts. The nadir point is surely “You Don’t Bleed for Me”, which sounds pretty much like a Pink song with metallic riffage, and recovers itself only at the end thanks to a fairly decent riff. And then, regarding a flaw which was already evident on the Times of Grace album... Jesse’s vocals may surely be less whiny than Howard’s, but the problem is when the band keeps writing the same fucking clean vocal lines that plagued like cancer albums such as “The End of Heartache” and “As Daylight Dies”: so, the album is still packed with mellow, saccharine, whiny choruses (like those of “Beyond the Flames”, “All We Have”, “No End in Sight” and “Always”), and even the best tracks such as the aforementioned “Time Will Not Remain” and “The Call” suffer of the same problem.
The breakdowns, despite having notably diminished (perhaps thanks to Jesse’s more “old school” mentality), still take too much space in certain places, ruining the structure of songs like “All We Have” and “The Turning Point” - on the latter, even trying to mask the lack of good riffs by the addition of some worthless melodies, pretty much like Arch Enemy used to do around ten years ago; however, sometimes, the chugging riffage is handled surprisingly better than usual, such as on the interesting sequence of “A Tribute to the Fallen”. Sadly, if breakdowns and chugs aren’t as offensive as before, the band’s typically inconsistent mid-paced riffs are still preserved, and Dutkiewicz didn’t lose the habit to insert uselessly technical riffage which just goes nowhere (such as on “Beyond the Flames”, “New Awakening” and “In Due Time”); after all, these were trademark elements of the band’s sound since day one, and it seems that Adam is still too attached to this style.
So, “Disarm the Descent” results to be a pretty listenable album, mostly filled with linear and inoffensive ideas which are often broken by occasional signs of life - both in positive and negative ways, as you can expect from this band, but this time the “positive” component takes much more space than before, making this record way more enjoyable than its predecessors. This album doesn’t match Times of Grace’s surprising (if still severely flawed) amount of creativity, but it represents a step in the right direction for Killswitch Engage. I’m curious to hear the band’s next releases: I think that Jesse’s somewhat “old school” spirit, united with a major level of inspiration provided by Adam, could finally bring us to hear a solid record in the near future - but we need to cut off the band’s “bad habits” first.
However... there’s something astonishingly ironic about this album: in the last years, most of the greatest names of melodic metalcore have gone through a dramatic downward spiral (just think of All That Remains’ shameful sellout, Shadows Fall’s lack of enthusiasm that brought them even to a temporary hiatus, or the post-As I Lay Dying abomination known as Wovenwar) - while, on the contrary, the infamous Killswitch Engage are rising proudly upon a dead scene that they actually contributed to kill in the past decade! Well, better late than never, though some collateral effects could have been prevented with some more anticipation.
Something right off the bat: I know fuck all about Killswitch. I never listened to them when they were at their peak because back then I'd react to a metalcore breakdown the same way I'd react to a hydroflouric spongebath administered by Kathy Bates. I guess I know the "Holy Diver" cover, and I know that it's much better than many metal fans seem to give it credit for ("Oh golly they added a breakdown! Dio was rolling in his grave three years before he even died!" Shut up, covers are always more interesting when the covering band adds their own flavor to it, and Howard Jones is a fine vocalist and the rest of the band did a commendable job and paid the song no disrespect by simply having the gall to love it enough to want to perform it, untwist your panties), but that's it. I can't name a single song and I can only name one or two albums. So believe me when I say I'm coming into this with a fresh perspective. I have no preference between Jesse Leach and Howard Jones because I barely know what either man sounds like, so this much lauded reunion doesn't mean a damn thing to me. I'm coming into this with my only prior knowledge being that the band plays metalcore and that the guitarist is apparently a big deal as a producer, that's it.
And with that fresh perspective in mind, my final thought is "eh, it's okay". You see, when it comes to modern mainstream metalcore, it's going to be hard to top As I Lay Dying's fourth-time's-a-charm An Ocean Between Us, and so using that album as a measuring stick, I'd have to say Disarm the Descent is pretty enjoyable when it's on, but really lacks staying power and is absolutely plagued with short term deja-vu issues. I can't tell most of these songs apart after half a dozen spins, and many songs share similar riffs and vocal melodies ("New Awakening" and "In Due Time" share very similar main riffs, for example). These riffs are almost all pretty decent high tempo melodeath riffs that the metalcore genre has certainly made their bread and butter over the years, and while they lack any sort of immediate creativity, they are pleasant and do their job pretty well. I can definitely see a circle pit breaking out during the intro of "The Call" or just any moment really. Disarm the Descent certainly keeps the pace up and the songs short throughout its duration, and I can certainly appreciate that since it at the very least keeps the album from dragging. The songs may all be kinda samey but at least they don't just drone on and refuse to end. The sole exception being the ballad "Always", which, unsurprisingly, is terrible. I dunno guys, trying to shove all this emotion into a track with that goofy voice just kinda backfires, especially when the instrumental portion is dreadfully boring.
And with that I should probably bring up the vocals. The harsh hardcore screams are pretty good, nothing particularly noteworthy and they're pretty inconsequential, but good nonetheless. Where my issue lies is with the clean vocals. Now, As I Lay Dying sports some of the most hilariously wimpy cleans in the history of heavy music, and they always struck me as the sound of some poor shlub who got picked on in high school ineffectually lashing out in his diary, so Killswitch here has at least managed to avoid that pratfall by having these at least sound like they're coming from a grown man. My qualm with them is the fact that it sounds like they're trying so hard to be emotional that they just come off as hilariously phony. He sounds like an amateur theater enthusiast trying to put on a fake accent. Every time they surface they just project way more than they need to and end up sounding so incredibly forced and dorky. They're kind of reminiscent of Shadows Fall, just... goofier. I can't help but imagine him in a high school auditorium, hanging out of a cardboard window, shaking his fist to the other actors while he sings "REEEELEEEASE YOAH! INUHBIIISHUuUuUNS". It's so damn funny to me, seriously.
The album also has a strange dichotomy in where the first half is more melodic and obviously meant to be radio singles ("In Due Time", "The Turning Point", and "Beyond the Flames" are the most obvious to me), whereas the second half blurs together yet somehow manages to be more memorable. Tracks like "The Call" and "All that We Have" most definitely stick in my memory more than something like "A Tribute to the Fallen". It's kind of strange, because even though the album is front loaded with obvious radiobait and the back half is slightly more adventurous in the sense that the riffs get slightly heavier on average, the sense of melody is suffocatingly prevalent the entire time. This music is the metal equivalent of the logical opposite of something like Portal. It's about as consonant and poppy as you can get while still being undeniably based in some form of metal (in this case, the ever popular style of metalcore that vigorously molests the melodeath scene).
And frankly, that's not for everybody. The pop sensibility works to the band's advantage when they go for full on catchy melodies, but the songs with blast beasts and easily windmillable riffs tend to stand out the most simply because they sound like the band is having more fun with them. That's really important in this case because the album on the whole feels somewhat rushed. The songs give the impression that not a whole lot of time was put into any of them, with most of them being paint-by-numbers templates of how metalcore songs are supposed to be written. Most of them are pretty formulaic and all but two of them fall within the same thirty second window in length. It's just... kinda there. That's why the album as a whole sort of fails, it isn't bad, it does what it sets out to do, but it isn't very memorable and doesn't feel like the band put their all into writing and recording it. This feels like a rushed product, and that's disappointing for a band that's supposedly making their thunderous return with their original vocalist. So in the end you can pretty much just burn through this once or twice and shelf it. It's got some good tunes, I think "In Due Time" is definitely a good choice for a single, but again, in terms of mega popular melodic metalcore, you can do much better than this.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
The sixth release from Massachusetts melodic metalcore stalwarts Killswitch Engage, “Disarm the Descent,” marks the return of original vocalist Jesse James Leech and manages to continue the groups’ string of consistent, strong albums and gives the group a great overall release.
Right from the start, the group uploads the front half of the album with their potential singles and hits, giving this the sense of being so front-loaded that the rest of the album suffers in comparison. Lead-off track ‘The Hell in Me’ is one of these better tracks, with a punishing intro, some great clean vocal lines within melodic choruses and a quick pace that remains full of the passion and intensity that was a band trademark early in their careers. ‘Beyond the Flames’ is in that same vein of melodic choruses and intricate melodies interwoven with that same passion in the playing and performances that allows for a strong track, and it continues on nicely with ‘New Awakening,’ which spices up the speed nicely and carries a little more energy and technicality in it. First single ‘In Due Time’ melds everything together with melodic choruses, raspy growls at the right time and a perfect balance of thrashy aggression and intricate melody-driven riff-work to rank as one of the strongest singles of the bands’ career and really gives this one four good songs in a row. After a misstep with the technically-proficient but meandering ‘A Tribute to the Fallen,’ things kick back into strong gear with ‘The Turning Point,’ which appears as another quality Killswitch-esque song filled with their trademark elements in full force yet also includes deeper growls than expected that mesh well with their sound, making this first half seem as though it’s all business as usual for the group and giving it a lot of good points.
In contrast, the second half of the album instead consists of a lot of rather similar-sounding songs that tend to be rather formulaic and uninspired. By uploading all the hits and big songs in the front half and letting the second half tend to be filled with filler-ish songs, it makes for a marked downfall of quality from one to another. Granted, the songs still feature an abundance of inspired melodies, ferocious drumming and passionately-crooned vocals all mixed impeccably together, it really leaves a lot to be desired. The last real strong track on the album is the start of the second half, ‘All That We Have,’ a punishing and utterly intense offering that throws black metal-like moments of velocity and speed into their trademark sound, meshing both seamlessly and allowing them to both have spotlight moments, and really making this track stand out easily. Starting with the next three tracks, though, they all tend to run the same way through with melodic guitar riffs interspersed with moments of thrashing abandon but almost-without-exception excluding the aggression from their sound and focusing solely on the melodic side as the growls and screams are replaced with the soulful croon and more laid-back paces that lack the energy and aggression found elsewhere on the album. Still packed with enthusiasm and passionate playing, those aren’t the problems but rather the songwriting as they seem like bonus tracks to be found on deluxe edition re-issues rather than on the album proper, though ‘The Call’ tends to sound more in keeping with the rest of the album’s material and could be allowed to stay. The ballad ‘Always’ is another rather fine addition to the album, it’s sparkling guitar-centered melodies and brooding vocals making it utterly catchy and memorable without being too much of a departure, their melody-driven sound and passionate vocals utilized to maximum effort. It goes back to normal with the traditional thrashy ‘Time Will Not Remain’ that sees them pick up the pace nicely and really go back to the up-tempo efforts elsewhere on the album and ends on a high note.
While there’s plenty to debate over in regards to the groups’ direction and decision in regards to personnel issues, the main factor here is that this is a strong, quality release from one of the genre’s first great acts. Still displaying their penchant for strong, punishing grooves with metalcore’s sense of dynamics and dual-vocal approaches and a healthy dose of infectious guitar-driven melodies, there’s no real surprises from the group on this release but instead just churn out their formulaic sound and approach in grand fashion and continue to march forth as one of the genre’s driving forces, only now with their original line-up intact. The later half could’ve been boosted with some better songwriting as it’s got a few too many clunker songs to really stand-up with the genre’s best, but as for the group themselves, they haven’t sounded this inspired or passionate in a long time which is a good thing for if they can harness this positive step into the future, it should be quite fun.
Killswitch Engage are one of the few tolerable metalcore acts I unconditionally love regardless of my growth towards other areas of music. These guys are one of the pioneers of melodic metalcore and it is this very attribute that’s appealed to me throughout their career. Jesse Leach supposedly vanished without giving a proper farewell to his fellow members but within a periodic time between a year he resurfaced with a new act of his own entitled, Seemless. In 2007, we see the lit reminiscent acquaintanceship with Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz collaborating to form Times of Grace. 2011 saw a bright entrance of refractory excellence with the release of their debut, “The Hymn of a Broken Man”. This could be seen as Killswitch Engage’s 2009’s follow-up. This momentum now brings forth “Disarm the Descent”.
This release marks the return of original vocalist, Jesse Leach, being more than a decade since his last contributions. Those not familiar with pre-”End of Heartache” will finally have a chance to see a different front man’s capabilities. Howard Jones’s strong nine year streak has now ended but this turn of events has re-spawned Alive or Just Breathing's grand line-up with the addition of Justin Foley. Does it sink or swim? I’ll leave it with the statement that I sense pressure and dense consciousness seeping through.
“The Hell in Me” started things off and as the first riff came within my recollection, I knew right away the riffs would be enjoyable. The production on this specific aspect sounded heavy and escaped from its captive honing device in the cleanest and genuine way as possible. However, the defect of it all was the production choices to sharpen vocals to an unnecessary varying amount. Harsh vocals sounded surprisingly great but when it came to cleans and choruses you could tell the falsified imitation lacked authenticity. “Beyond the Flames” luckily, made me eat my words. During the course of the song, there was a beautiful and relaxing interlude followed by a purveyor of a real human soul that is Jesse Leach implementing emotive-felt cleans cleansing the pain of your suffering.
The next song has an appropriate title to describe its progress, “New Awakening”. It represented both sides of the spectrum. Leach must have been out of his mind to incorporate “1,2,3,4” as a beginning lyric. Seriously? Basically, a filler usually one would think to edit out. Riffs, however, start to get interesting. The tone and style apt to Psycroptic’s Joe Haley, I was rather impressed by it. Memory lane decided to take a comforting stroll around a forsaken park, upon the lyrics “I would rather die than live my life in fear”. The way Leach bared out a semi-hatred inducing harsh vocal on the carrying impact of the word “fear”, took me back to his heydays in 2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing”.
If you’ve ever seen Adam Dutkiewicz live you know how random and capricious he can be. Well, I felt he incorporated that knack onto “Disarm the Descent”. His backing vocals are spontaneously scattered throughout the record that at times you’d think they seem out of place. Analyzing it all, it’s a just personality merger into the music itself. I don’t think a tranquilizer can take that guy down. There was plenty of novelty backing vocals as well (i.e. “In Due Time”, etc.). “A Tribute to the Fallen” has a rather complacent rhythm along the veins of Liturgy’s experiential-ism or excuse me, transcendence. The solo both in this and the previous song included an outlandishly misconceived tapping that should have been aborted or adjusted. This song left with a good note as a fading ambient rhythm transparently goes into drums powering up and increasing voltage overall as it leaks into the next one. A huge disappointment as “The Turning Point” goes into a chugging predictable snore-prevalent bore fest. Unlike both its predecessors, this had an interesting solo.
“You Don't Bleed for Me”, do I have to elaborate on this one? The title seems self-explanatory. Anyways, here you get the most stereotypical technique in metalcore. It makes a gang rape in a sauna during the hottest summer, being an individual with an anxiety disorder, more preferable. It’s the obnoxious muffled speech all unoriginal artists engage in. “The Call” had one of the strangest techniques I’ve heard. Blast-beats were hammering on and on as Leach sang a clean lyric passage.
I don’t know if I made it clear but overall this album was troubling to say in the most decent way as possible. It felt completely rushed; a greater percentage of the album didn’t click mutual harmony. It had too much “copy & paste” going on, you know sticking a chorus with the notion of instantly hooking the ignorant masses. The lyric themes were aimed at pubescent boys and girls. No lyrical depth only superficial topics teens would appeal to. Maybe Jesse Leach’s return didn’t seem quite right with the guys. As I said before, the production murders the vocal authenticity. “Disarm the Descent” would sound just fine live but as a studio album, this completely failed. Please work on the solos as well, they’re kind of messy.
Originally written for www.metal-temple.com