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Killswitch Engage Guitarist Joel Stroetzel Discusses "Atonement," Working With Howard Jones Again And Twentieth Anniversary

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Band Photo: Killswitch Engage (?)

Heavy metal endured a punishing time in the nineties. The rise of grunge and other genres increasing in popularity made it a difficult time for many metal bands and some thought metal was soon to be dead and buried. The next decade however, metal rose up once more, giving young listeners a sound which expressed their rage and discomfort in a time dominated by the War on Terror, paranoia and otherwise bland music... Not much has changed really. At the forefront of this metal revival was the metalcore genre, which may not have been loved by all, but was instrumental in bringing young fans into the flock. Perhaps the biggest band of this movement, though they might not appreciate the tag, was Massachusetts' own, Killswitch Engage.

Twenty years after forming and now with a new album, "Atonement" out, the band are still going strong. Their eighth album could well be their most diverse yet and has received strong praise from most metal media outlet since it's release in August. Last week, the band arrived in the UK to perform a headlining run with support from Revocation and I was lucky enough to meet up with guitarist Joel Stroetzel at the famous Brixton Academy in London to talk all about the album, as well as the band's twentieth anniversary and teaming up with former vocalist Howard Jones for the song, "The Signal Fire." You can watch the conversation in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album "Atonement" is out now. How's the response been so far?

Joel Stroetzel: We're actually really excited by how well the new songs are going over live. We're doing anywhere from four to six new songs in the set, so it's a good chunk of the new record. So yeah it's going over well, you never know playing new stuff live how things are gonna go. No complaints!

Oz: It's notable for featuring a couple of collaborations as well. We'll start with Chuck Billy of Testament, who's on the track, "The Crownless King." How did that come about?

Joel: It's funny, I've been a huge Testament fan for a long time, since I was a kid. We were all going through the songs trying to figure out which ones would actually make the record and we got to that song and said, "This song's OK, it's pretty good, it sounds like Testament but it needs something more. What's going to bring it over the top? We should have Chuck Billy sing on it!" just kind of jokingly. Our manager said, "We could just ask, he probably would do it"... and he did!

Oz: Was he in the studio with you?

Joel: No, he did his own thing and sent us the tracks but I got goosebumps when I heard it. I'm a really big Testament fan and I was just really excited.

Oz: Sweet. A lot has been made about Howard being on "The Signal Fire." To me it's a little bit of a departure from the traditional Killswitch Engage sound. It's not quite thrash but it's really fast.

Joel: Yeah, it's got a lot of fast down picking and double bass and stuff. It has kind of a thrashy intro and then almost a power metal chourus. We've always remained friends with Howard and we're really psyched that over the last year or so, Jesse and Howard have become really good friends. So Jesse mentioned the idea to Howard a while ago, who was like, "Of course man!" Jesse did that with Howard many moons ago on "Take This Oath," so it was kind of a cool thing. We've had two great singers in the band and it was really fun to get involved with Howard again and do the video and stuff. It's always great to see him.

Oz: Another really cool thing about the album is the artwork. Who did the art for this one?

Joel: I forget the name of the artist actually. Mike D (bassist) was in touch with him, doing all that stuff. I always go by "Oh Mike D did the artwork," but I forget the guys name but it was something that they were working on for a while and I think Jesse and Mike kind of came up with the concept for it. But yeah the artwork came out really great man, it's awesome.

Oz: This is your first album through Metal Blade. How's the relationship with them been going so far?

Joel: So far it's been great. It really has been awesome. We've been friends with the Metal Blade folks for many years, Brian Slagel and everybody there. Really really cool guys, they seem motivated and they've been doing a lot to push the record.

Oz: Obviously the last album and I think all the Killswitch albums before it were released through Roadrunner. Why the decision to leave Roadrunner? Was it just a matter of your contract expiring?

Joel: The contract had ran out. It was definitely nothing nasty. Those guys were good to us over the years but we just figured, "Hey, it's been this long" and a lot of the people who were there when we signed with Roadrunner weren't there anymore so we thought since it's kind of a different vibe, maybe it's time for some new blood and to change it up a little bit. It was just time for a little change and Metal Blade was there. We love those guys.

Oz: It seems that something as seemingly small as changing labels can really light a fire in a lot of bands.

Joel: For sure. It's just nice to see things happen in a different way. It's like, "Oh that's different! That's a cool idea! We haven't done that before." so it kind of keeps us on our toes too.

Oz: Good. This year's the twentieth anniversary of Killswitch Engage. Was it important to have a new record out to celebrate?

Joel: (laughs) Yeah, officially old and here's a new record!

Oz: Also next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first album. Are there any plans to focus on that next year or is it going to be business as normal?

Joel: We've talked about that. I'm not sure if we'll do a whole tour on it or if we'll just do a couple of shows here and there but we definitely want to do something when the time comes. I'm not sure what it is yet but the wheels are definitely turning so we'll see what happens.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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