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A worthy successor to Alive or Just Breathing - 96%

Goatfangs, January 19th, 2011

Killswitch Engage is a band that some love and some hate. I'm in the former category, but even I recognize that the band had a dip in quality after Jesse Leach left the band. Howard Jones is not a bad singer by any means but he does not quite match up to the mastery of Leach's singing and growls. Alive or Just Breathing was a masterpiece that Killswitch Engage never quite lived up to with wonderful songs like My Last Serenade, The Element of One, Just Barely Breathing and Rise Inside. On that album there was a masterful mix of melody and heaviness, the marriage of melodic death metal and metalcore, clean and harsh vocals and catchy songs was perfected. Since Alive or Just Breathing, countless bands have tried to emulate its style but have failed, mainly because they focus too much on the breakdowns, or too much on the emotional vocals that come across as disturbingly pre-pubescent. Until now. Alive or Just Breathing has just found its equal. It is difficult to say of The Hymn of a Broken Man is better than Alive or Just Breathing, but after fifteen straight listens in the past two days this album has had the same impact as when I first listened to Alive or Just Breathing.

On The Hymn of a Broken Man we get essentially a very Killswitch Engage style of music, but less emphasis on the hardcore. I don't hear very many breakdowns as they are used sparingly. When they appear they move the song along with a catchy groove and don't sound like they are placed there for the sake of ninja-kicks and retard flailing in a mosh-pit. There is also quite a bit of experimentation on this album, especially with post-rock. The guitar work of Adam Dutkiewicz ranges from the melodic metalcore style he does so well (From Aftershock to Killswitch Engage, his style is distinct and recognizable) to very melodic, acoustic and relaxed parts. One big factor in what makes this album so great are the leads - and the solos! The solos are intricate and full of melody with a very uplifting feel. The production reminds me of Killswitch Engage's most recent album, very polished and everything comes through clear. The riffs themselves are quite varied, with tremolo picked riffs, or tight grooves that are accented with a pinch-harmonic squeal, but also some arpeggios and quite a bit of experimentation. Post-rock and shoegaze is used in a subtle way to enhance the atmosphere, this is most apparent in songs like Until the End of Days, The End of Eternity and The Forgotten One. The experiments don't get in the way of the flow of the songs and never sound pretentious. One of my favorite uses of these experiments is the ethereal tremolo picked riff in the background of Fight for Life that reminds me of an underground atmospheric post-rock/shoegaze project called Nyktalgia.

The drumming on this album is solid and well-done. It is tightly locked with the music but it doesn't just provide a rhythmic background, it is varied and intricate. There is a blast-beat used along with a tremolo riff in Hope Remains that builds up to the soaring chorus with both amazing leads and wonderful vocals.

The vocals. That is the elephant in the room I've avoided talking about until now. The singing and growls of Jesse Leach is easily the prime reason why this album is so great. The riff writing and song structures were all Adam Dutkiewicz, but the lyrics and vocals, how everything is performed in that regard, is all Jesse Leach. This is a reunion of the two primary forces that made Alive or Just Breathing so great. Jesse Leach does a fair amount of growling, they sound almost exactly like his growls on the first two Killswitch Engage albums. His singing since then has vastly improved as there is a wider variety in style. Whenever his vocals soar it is very uplifting and there is not a single flaw in his performance. The lyrics are also characteristically Jesse Leach as well, as in the Killswitch Engage albums he sang on they deal with positivity and overcoming adversity, but also dealing with uniting mankind and living with love for everyone. Compare Live in Love with Vida Infra. Compare Strength in Numbers to Rise Inside. Compare Hope Remains to The Element of One. You get the point. There is also quite a bit of words about faith and Christianity, which was the case in the first two Killswitch Engage albums, and like those recordings they are never pretentious or preachy.

Adam Dutkiewicz is one of my favorite guitarists but he even admits he isn't too great in the vocals or lyrics department. Jesse Leach is one of my favorite vocalists but his work on Seemless and The Empire Shall Fall in the years since his departure from Killswitch Engage never quite had the same impact as Alive or Just Breathing. As with the first two albums, the pairing of Adam D. and Jesse Leach created something that is more than the sum of its parts. The Hymn of a Broken Man is an uplifting masterpiece and an excellent way to ring in 2011. It contains modern production and experimentation with plenty of nostalgic elements that hark back to when I first got into metal and Alive or Just Breathing was the album I was obsessed with back in those days. Saying it is for fans of Killswitch Engage is no stretch at all.