Killswitch EngageKillswitch Engage
Rating: 2.5/5.0 – Good for a band I thought was a mediocre institution, but not terribly special
Label: Roadrunner Records
Websites: killswitchengage.com | myspace.com/killswitchengage

Killswitch Engage is pretty much the institution of metalcore on this planet, having artistically trimmed the genre into a tightly packaged, perfectly polished formula which appeals to the masses.  When I first heard them they were opening up for In Flames in Milwaukee and I was peeved that they were above Dark Tranquillity and Sentenced despite them being new on the scene.  Their vocalist was solid, but the music wasn’t compelling for me.  I was, apparently, kind of alone, as after that tour Killswitch became a metal “household name,” and even the most death metal of dudes I knew were totally digging on them.

Frankly, I lost track of them after The End of Heartache because I didn’t think it was very good at all (today I’d probably give it a 1.5/5.0).  However, I’m a metal fan and when I saw that these guys had their new album streaming I figured I’d give it a few proverbial spins and write a review, since that’s what I do.

And honestly, I’m surprised.  Despite this being a neatly packaged, highly formulaic and often plastic sounding–it’s enjoyable.  Sure, Killswitch is long past being progressive, new and/or groundbreaking, but they have honed this sound to a fine edge and each song powers through the speakers with a groove and a presence that explains why they’re still signed and selling a lot of records.  Not only that, but the musical approach is a step up from their earlier stuff even though many of these tracks could be interchanged with earlier albums.  It is almost entirely breakdown free, despite having good groove and lots of chunk, and the guitar work is actually super catchy and borderline interesting.  The production is, of course, flawless, but it doesn’t feel sterile like a lot of the new bands that are coming out these days–it’s probably too polished for an old-school hardcore fan, but for the Hot Topic types this is perfect.

Howard, the band’s vocalist, deserves his own paragraph because he’s just really that good.  This guy is a total powerhouse vocalist.  I don’t know if he writes all his own vocal parts, but they’re pretty damn catchy and his screams are tremendous.  Not only that, but it’s nice to hear a strong baritone still carrying the metal banner–since these days it seems like most clean vocals are still done by tenors or by guys who are trying to sound like 90s pop-punk vocalists.  His vocals are flawless, impressive and he even does the low, soft end really well.  If these guys had any other vocalist, I don’t think this record would be as good.

So sure, Killswitch is about as close to “bubblegum” pop as one actually gets in metal.  And yeah, they’re not doing anything super amazingly neat or new and yet… I’ve listened to this record about 4 times and I don’t have a headache, I have no desire to teach anyone in the band the meaning of pain and I don’t feel robbed of time or my personal honor.  That’s better than I can say for the last record of theirs I listened to, which means that these guys have really progressed as a band.  Like I said before, not ground-breaking, but fun to listen to and enjoyable.  What more can an Angry Metal Guy really ask for?  Well… a lot.  But I never expected it from these guys in the first place, so color me pleasantly surprised.

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