By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
Ever since Jesse Leach returned to front Killswitch Engage in 2012, the group has been on a major tear through the metal world. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love Howard Jones and what he has done for the group (I even like his new group, Light the Torch). However, if I am being perfectly honest, I just think there is something special when Leach is in front of the microphone for the metalcore giants. When they did Disarm the Descent in 2013, I was over the moon from what I heard and was so excited to hear Leach back at it. I have seen Killswitch Engage twice now, once on the Killthrax tour with Anthrax and the other was when they co-headlined with Parkway Drive. After the Parkway show, they had a banner outside the Hollywood Palladium where it was announced that Killswitch would be releasing a brand-new album with Metal Blade Records. Now, it is here and entitled Atonement. After almost 20 years since their self-titled debut, can the metalcore pioneers still be on top of the mountain? We shall see and listen.
Kicking things off the record is the melodic demon, “Unleashed.” The intro guitar riffs played by rhythm man Joel Stroetzel give the song a haunting feeling, then Leach belches a horrific scream. He crosses the thresholds of singing like a beast and a gentleman. I see “Unleashed” as letting the beast within roam freely to release its anger. Hell of a start to this album. “The Signal Fire” is the song I have been looking forward to from Killswitch Engage. Jones rejoins the group to trade lyrical fisticuffs with Leach. They do a masterful job splitting up the verses, while Jones handles the chorus with harmonious gusto. Lead guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz gives a blistering solo the compliments the wicked fast drumming of Justin Foley. Worlds collided with a metal explosion, making this one of my favorite tracks. “Us Against the World” has that old-school metal feel that you would normally hear from Iron Maiden or the Scorpions. The riff work of Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel is very gripping and somewhat nostalgic in a sense. Leach is a brute force on the microphone while singing to the appease Ronnie James Dio. This a different approach from Killswitch that works really. Up next is the thrash metal crossover “The Crownless King,” where Testament chieftain Chuck Billy lends his voice. Both of these vocal titans show no mercy, tearing their teeth into the flesh of the lyrics. The cross between metalcore and thrash is mix together really well without one style dominating the other. The riffs and bass beats by Mike D’Antonio are intense. This song is a testament of strength and resilience.
We have come to the halfway point of Atonement as we approach “I Am Broken.” After going full throttle with the last track, we see Killswitch go a bit tamer without losing their heavy edge. This song a bit more hard rock than metal, with the tempo being taken down a notch. Leach sings mid-range for the most part, but he does let a good scream every now and then. It is a good song, but I feel it is not up to the standards of the rest of the record. “As Sure as the Sun Will Rise” kicks the aggression in the ass. It has a positive message about overcoming adversity and turning hate into a source of strength. Leach had to endure vocal therapy for 3 months when he discovered a polyp on his vocal chords, so I see this as his conquering song. The blistering guitar licks are full of majestic assertiveness. “Know Your Enemy” is a turbo-charged metal tune where the main riff punches you in the guts. It never lets up and Leach is leading the charge with his hollering screams. Dutkiewicz lays down a melodic solo that sounds very triumphant, as if the resistance against authority is alive. Killswitch knows their enemy. Do you? “Take Control” is the Killswitch song you would expect to hear: heavy melodic guitars and bombastic drum beats. I especially enjoyed the guitar licks because while they are metalcore sounding, they have hints of 80s power metal, especially in Dutkiewicz’s solo.
We are nearing the end as we come to next song, “Ravenous.” The title definitely justifies the song because I could tell that Leach is hungry for more, as are we listeners. I love the bridge where the breakdowns happen in the lyrics. Hardcore to a “T,” this preaches that we should stay hungry for new ventures and truths in life. “I Can’t Be the Only One” is probably the closest thing to a power ballad for Killswitch Engage. I enjoy how the tempo as it is not too fast, but it does not lose any luster. While Stroetzel nails the main riff, Dutkiewicz zips into a groovy solo that sounds majestic. We have now come to the end of the finale, “Bite the Hand That Feeds.” In true Killswitch style, they end it with a balls to the wall tune. This song attacks the elite that run our lives, and Leach calls upon us to take a stand. The longest song of the album, it is also the heaviest. Foley is a tenacious drumming machine on this song, while D’Antonio throws down a blasting bass beat that mud stomps our ears. It ends with a continuous riff that sounds like a march into battle. Well, I’m ready for war.
This has to be Killswitch Engage’s best work since 2004’s The End of Heartache. Just like with Slipknot’s We Are Not Your Kind, Atonement allows Killswitch to diversify their sound and explore new territories. The crossovers with Howard Jones and Chuck Billy were the best ones because they signified the best of both worlds. The polyp didn’t derail Leach’s beast within, it just made him stronger. I await to hear these songs to be played live. To Killswitch Engage, I salute you. Horns up, and atone!!!
02. The Signal Fire [Featuring Howard Jones]
03. Us Against the World
04. The Crownless King [Featuring Chuck Billy]
05. I Am Broken Too
06. As Sure As the Sun Will Rise
07. Know Your Enemy
08. Take Control
10. I Can’t Be the Only One
11. Bite the Hand That Feeds
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