Killswitch Engage’s eighth studio album, ‘Atonement’, is the culmination of a turbulent two-year period, with the initial concepts being kicked around as far back as 2017. It’s also one that hit a huge obstacle around the middle of the process, with frontman Jesse Leach developing scar tissue in his throat which not only threw the album off course, but forced him to undergo the knife; three months of speech therapy, vocal therapy and scream therapy followed just to get him back to his best. That’s what makes this album so brilliant – the obstacles they had to overcome to get here, the pain Leach had to endure. The embodiment of blood, sweat, and tears – which when mixed together, has created (what I believe to be) one of their strongest performances yet.
The gears that create the Killswitch Machine are Jesse Leach(lead vocals), Adam Dutkiewicz (lead guitar/backing vocals), Joel Stroetzel (rhythm guitar/backing vocals), Mike D’Antonio (bass), and Justin Foley (drums).
Atonement opens with Unleashed, a combination of emotional and musical intricacies which pair brilliantly with their somewhat frantic surroundings. It’ll be hard not to draw comparisons to ‘The End of Heartache’ when sitting back and deciphering this track; with its staccato rhythms and the ever-distant calls of “Deceive me … Release me … Unleash me” – but this likeness is far from the plane of negativity. In fact, if anything it helps give the track a lot more girth, especially when you liken it to one of the bands’ most widely-known singles.
Speaking of The End of Heartache, the more diehard Killswitch Engage fans will be enthralled with the fact that ex-frontman Howard Jones returns to lend his sublime vocals to the album – the first time he’s done so in seven years. Hearing him back with the Killswitch tenacity behind him is definitely a welcomed smack of nostalgia and is definitely one of the highlights of the album. Us Against The World draws stark contrasts from its chorus melody which recalls “A Light in a Darkened World” – this is painted seamlessly through multiple facets such as the softer tones in Leach’s voice, to the heavier tones of the bands instrumentals.
Testament frontman Chuck Billy lends his vocal prowess to The Crownless King (somewhat befitting, given his position within the thrash metal scene). It’s not surprising that Leach and Billy’s vocals fuse together phenomenally, with their different tones playing off each other with youthful exuberance. When you throw this into a mix that boasts some balls-to-the-wall heaviness in its instrumental delivery, you know you’re in for one hell of an experience.
I Am Broken Too slightly shifts the tempo to a slower pace, which probably comes into account of the themes of suicide and depression that ring true throughout. Lyrically, it might not stand up to some as being a strong deliverance, but don’t let that take away from the performance. The more prominent point I want to push on the back of this track, is that Leach has gone on record to say that Killswitch will be donating a certain amount of profits from the track to Hope For The Day, a Chicago-based organisation that helps take suicide prevention head on through musical and artistical means – which is absolutely brilliant!
As Sure as the Sun Will Rise unreservedly turns the dial back up to 11, with an uplifting air that is synonymous with what Killswitch Engage have embodied since their inception. This is followed up with Know Your Enemy which, musically, is nothing short of masterfully delivered. Boasting Pantera-like riffs and an upbeat chorus, it’s the instrumentals that truly drive this one home, creating yet another memorable offering.
Returning to the themes explored withinI Am Broken Too, Take Control not only tackles anxiety more specifically, but feels more musically accomplished when compared to the former. The highlight is undeniably its climactic solo which stands as a high point for Dutkiewicz’s leads on the album, and possibly even beyond that. Opening with one hell of a beatdown, Ravenous prominently displays the band’s notorious thrashy/melodic riffs; however, while ringing true to the somewhat trademarked sound, this track brims the newly captured vitality and youthfulness, that is displayed throughout the album as well. Don’t worry, this isn’t signs of Killswitch – ‘changing with the times’ – it’s more Killswitch becoming even greater. How could you be upset with that?
I Can’t Be the Only One is another sublime performance that throws back to similar Killswitch sounds, with the track’s opening recalling similarities to My Last Serenade. Its slower pace and predominantly cleaner vocals slot this in as one of the album’s softer performances, however it remains quite pacey and backed consistently with somewhat tenacious melodic death metal riffs, which although sombre, helps create an atmosphere of aggression – weird, right?
You want to talk about bringing things full circle, and finishing on a high note? I don’t think it could have gotten any higher than Bite the Hand That Feeds. The ferocity displayed is more admirable than it is intimidating, which builds to an absolute explosion once the chorus hits. The chugging guitar that brings the album to a close might leave people a little flat, but regardless of the fact, this is one hell of a track.
I say this as objectively as humanly possible – Atonement is a near-flawless album and will withstand the test of time as one of Killswitch Engage’s strongest outings (especially with Leach at the helm). Huge call? I’ll let you be the judge of that when it drops. Undeniably, however, one of the best heavy metal albums you’ll listen to in 2019.
Atonement releases August 16 and is available for pre-order HERE.