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Killswitch Engage - "Killswitch Engage" (CD)

Killswitch Engage - "Killswitch Engage" CD cover image

"Killswitch Engage" track listing:

1. Never Again
2. Starting Over
3. The Forgotten
4. Reckoning
5. The Return
6. A Light in a Darkened World
7. Take Me Away
8. I Would Do Anything
9. Save Me
10. Lost
11. This Is Goodbye

Reviewed by on July 27, 2009

"The ultimate doom for the album, however, was the expectations that were set prior to its release."

Killswitch Engage’s first eponymous album in 2000 was one of the first great metalcore albums. Featuring gritty breakdowns, soaring choruses, and gut-wrenching shrieks; it was a breakthrough in modern American metal as the extreme and radio-friendly elements mixed together seamlessly. Killswitch Engage singlehandedly launched thousands of metalcore imitators in the early part of this decade, which is the surest sign of success. They have returned in 2009 with their second eponymous album, vowing to dig themselves out of the repetitive rut they have gotten stuck in over their last couple albums. Unfortunately, this promise does not come true.

Their first move was to bring in Brendan O’Brien (AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mastodon, King’s X) to co-produce the album along with guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, who produced the previous four albums. O’Brien’s radio-friendly touch is evident from the get-go. The guitars on “Never Again” are pulled back from the aggressive ledge, and move easily and almost unnoticed underneath the vocals of Howard Jones and the drums of Justin Foley.

Jones in particular worked to expand his range and capabilities on this album, but unfortunately it is more of the same. His shriek is visceral, his growl is gut-punching rough, and his clean vocals are inspiring. But they were on each of his other two releases with Killswitch Engage too. Each vocal mode has effectively one register or note, and while he moves between modes easily and effectively, the vowed variation and expansion is not there.

The music itself is also standard Killswitch Engage material. Still drawing from classic NWOBHM and thrash metal bands like Metallica, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, the album is crunchy and inspiring. “Take Me Away” features guitar riffs that are straight Hetfield and a bass-lead verse structure that is pure Iron Maiden. The song “Starting Over” has to be co-written by Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, and “Save Me” is a melodic thrash groove reminiscent of later Anthrax.

The chorus of “Take Me Away” is Top 40 rock, sounding more like producer O’Brien’s softer projects. Eventually the guitar leads above the main riffs across the album come to sound exactly like Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, noodling away in its own little world. The band seems to have traded much of the post-hardcore aggression for a smoother Top 40 approach, with the sweeping vocals a much larger feature of the music, pushing the breakdowns and machine gun riffs toward irrelevance.

The ultimate doom for the album, however, was the expectations that were set prior to its release. With the high profile move to bring O’Brien aboard and repeated promises by the entire band to break the mould and get back to their former glory the bar was thrown awfully high, and the album falls well short. It is a good metalcore album certainly, let’s not forget that. But the band swore to try different things, and they probably did do so, but it isn’t apparent. It is fitting that this release is self-titled, as despite all efforts otherwise, they have created an album that is exactly what everyone expected.

Highs: The Killswitch Engage formula is intact – heavy, radio-friendly metalcore is well executed.

Lows: The move toward even shinier and easily digested production and music is disappointing for a band that has toured with Slayer.

Bottom line: Unless you are a Killswitch Engage fan already, this album will sound pretty derivative.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)